Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Theology: Called out of blindness (Mark 10:46-52)

This past Sunday's Gospel reading was from Mark 10:46-52, wherein Jesus restores the sight of Bartimaeus, a blind man, on the outskirts of Jericho. I'd like to focus on just two of the many treasures in this short passage: the man's desire to be cured of his blindness, and what the man did afterwards.

The blind man was begging when the crowd came by (Mark 10:46), probably for money or food, which he was far more likely to receive than a cure. As such, the blind man, a beggar, was dependent on the pity of the passersby for his survival. But when he learns that Jesus is in the crowd, he asks Jesus for his pity, not in the form of money or food, but vision. "So what?" you ask. "Of course he wanted to see, he was blind." But consider that, once freed from his blindness, begging would no longer "work" for him; he would have to work for his wages and his food and his survival. We have a tendency to turn our disabilities, our failings, and our misfortunes into crutches. This man must have realized that in asking for his sight, he would no longer have such a crutch. And yet he had the faith to ask for his vision, not money or food.

And then, as he cured the man, Jesus told him, "Go your way, your faith has saved you." What was the man's response? To go Jesus's way (Mark 10:52). The way of Jesus became the way of Bartimaeus: he followed Jesus on the way. Where was Jesus headed? To Jerusalem Mark 11:1-11 and the end of his earthly ministry.

What can we learn from Bartimaeus? Once our faith has saved us and our blindness has been cured, we are no longer beggars: we must take an active part in our new life. Once our faith has saved us and we go our way, we must make Jesus's way our way.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Religion & News: How an American Muslim reacts to al-Qaida's command to "kill Americans"

[Source: Jerusalem Post]

If you're one of the people that asks "where's the Muslim outrage?", you can find some of it by following the link to the article in the Jerusalem Post. The leader of al-Qaida in Iraq has recently issued a decree to its members to kill at least one American in the next two weeks. Aslam Abdullah, a Muslim living in Las Vegas, says in reply, "Count me as the one of those you have asked your supporters to kill."

A few choice excerpts from the article:
  • ...the plurality of opinions does not mean that we deprive ourselves of the civility that God demands from us.
  • We feel totally disgusted with your action and we condemn you without any reservation.
  • We accept the divine scheme of diversity in the world and you want to impose conformity.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Theology: The new Sabbath

"Behold, I make all things new", says the LORD God Almighty on His throne (Revelation 21:5). In the person of Jesus Christ, the law was not abolished but fulfilled, perfected. Who but God alone has the right to clarify and re-educate His people as to the nature of the commandments handed down to Moses? Later this week, I'll post my RCIA outline on the Ten/Twelve Commandments, in which I discuss that clarification and re-education, but for now, let's focus on just one thing: the Sabbath.

In the first story of Creation, in Genesis 1:1-2:3, God rests on the seventh day and makes it holy: on it He rested from all the work during His creation. Thus, the Sabbath. This is the third commandment delivered to Moses, that the seventh day of the week is holy and that we should refrain from work on that day (Exodus 20:8-11). How fitting is it, then, that the Sabbath, the day of rest for both man and God, was the only full day our Lord lay in the tomb, dead for our sins. A silent Sabbath, a most Holy Saturday. And then, after the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2) the women who loved Jesus went to the tomb, but he was not there: he had risen!

How fitting the Christian Sabbath is the first day of the week. The first day of the week is connected to the first day of Creation, when God said "Let there be light"! That first day, the first of all days, when God's work was truly begun. And Easter Sunday, nearly 2000 years ago, was the day on which Jesus's work truly began in us. We put our own work aside and glorify God -- for the Sabbath is the Lord's day -- but we do not abstain from work altogether on the Sabbath, we become reinvigorated with the charge of God's work that we must carry out, the mission given us by Christ, to make disciples of the nations and share the gospel.

It was on Sunday that the Apostles and disciples gathered to break bread (Acts 2:46;20:7): a new beginning in Christ and a new understanding of the Sabbath. Truly the Lord's day. Man was not made for the sabbath, but the sabbath was made for man, and Jesus is Lord even of the sabbath (Mark 2:27-28). He has made it his own.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Religion: My response to "When will we get Christianity right?"

If you have a helmet, now's a good time to put it on. Seatbelts should be fastened. Tray tables and seat backs: upright and locked. Security blanket. Government savings bond. Flame retardant clothing. Fat-free ice cream.

On ChristianForums.com, while searching threads updated recently, I came across one named "catholic is the one true church". I didn't notice how many replies there were in that thread... over 200. Well, I'd read more than half when one caught my eye, and I decided to reply to it. I read the remainder of the replies just to see if anyone else was saying the same thing I was about to say. For the faint of heart, here's a brief synopsis of the thread:
  • Did Jesus start the Catholic church? That doesn't mean they can just make stuff up (like papal infallability).
  • Yes, he did. [Examples from Scripture].
  • No, he didn't. [Examples from Scripture].
  • When did they use the word "Catholic"?
  • When did they use the word "Protestant"?
  • OMG you call the Pope the "Holy Father"?
  • Orthodox and Catholics pretend they are the one true church and then posts like this arise and their differences are made clear.
  • Why can't we all just get along? Christianity is about Christ.
  • Jesus didn't start a physical church, he started a catholic (= universal) church, meaning it transcended nation and race.
  • Prove [such and such] from Scripture!
  • Neither Catholicism nor the Bible teaches Sola Scriptura, so why don't you look at these early Christian writings from Ignatius?
  • If there's no record of Peter in Rome in the Bible, I don't want to hear about it.

Yeah, so as you can see, things were going swimmingly. So I responded to a comment.

wmc1982: I personally believe anyone who believes in the diety of Jesus Christ and follows His teachings are all part of the "One True Church"

And away I went. Please let me know what you think. This can also be found at ChristianForums.com, in the thread linked above, page 23, post #226.

If we're all right, who'll admit to being wrong first?

I apologize if this appears to be a rant, or if my tone is less ecumenical than that of my brothers and sisters here, but I feel there are topics being avoided and words being swallowed. I ask St. James to pray for me and to help seek guidance for the "tongue" with which I speak now, for I do not wish to deceive my heart or anyone else's, and prove my religion to be in vain (James 1:26, 3:1-10). wmc1982, this is not directed at you personally, but it was your comment (since it was a recent one) that I decided to reply to.

But where do you draw the line as to what his teachings are? Did he (or did he not) institute the Eucharist, whereby the bread and wine he shared with the Apostles was his body and blood? Did he (or did he not) declare to the Apostles that they have the power to forgive sins (a power formerly attributed to God alone)? Did he (or did he not) command his Apostles to make disciples of the nations and baptize them? Did he (or did he not) instruct that faith yields fruits, and that these works of faith are necessary for your salvation to be true, just as John the Baptist had preached to the Pharisees?

You could ignore the majority of the Bible and just cling to Romans 10:9-10. But there's more in Paul's writing than those two verses, more epistles than those of Paul (like that of James, the only place "faith alone" is found, as in See how a person is justified by works and not by faith alone, James 2:24), more to the New Testament than the epistles, more to the Bible than the New Testament, and more to the Church than the Bible! In fact, the Bible admits there's more to the teachings of Jesus than what's recorded in it, and yet Jesus told us to follow all his commands!

I won't deny Christians around the world share some core beliefs. But if there is a truth, it cannot be a different truth in one church than it is in another church. You can know some of the truth, which is different from knowing something contrary to the truth and calling it the truth. Look at it this way: you are calling for us to admit that we're all right so long as we accept Christ. Then who will be the first to admit that their church is wrong in the "extra details" it teaches, like how to baptize a person, and at what age it's permissible, and that tithing is necessary for the physical upkeep of the church as well as the financial support of its charitable missions? In fact, who needs "charitable missions" when we've got Christ?!

Catholicism didn't appear out of a vacuum. It didn't pop into existence the day Luther nailed his complaints to a door. It has been in existence since the day Jesus founded a Church, his Church, The Church. Holy Scripture and Apostolic Tradition and the teaching of those qualified to teach with authority are all ingredients to its growth over the centuries.

When John Q. Christian starts up his own church, "God's Way Bible Study Salvation Church", where does he find his authority? Did it take almost 2000 years for Christianity to have finally been "gotten right" by him? How does he interpret Scripture: is it really just how he reads it, or was he influenced by someone before him, who had another influence, and so on...? What about the historical interpretation by the Church Fathers and their successors? Is he interpreting the translated English text in his Bible, or examining the source documents in their historical context and language? Why does he ignore the history of the Church as presented by the Church Fathers? "It's not Scripture!" Well, if you're not going to believe something that's not in the Bible, then you'd better not place your trust in a "sinner's prayer" and an "altar call" for your salvation, since those are traditions of men. Nevermind what Paul actually wrote about accepting the traditions being passed onto the churches by the apostles. The Bible is not part of the Trinity, last time I checked. John 1 makes it clear that the Logos, the Word of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, was made incarnate in Jesus Christ, not "papyrate" in the Bible. The Bible is a testimony to God: Father, Son, and Spirit. The words written by its myriad authors were inspired in them by the Holy Spirit of God, making each of them prophets for us. Read Genesis 1:1-3 again, and there's the Trinity staring you in the face: the Father (who is creative in nature, for there is no Father without a child), the Spirit moving across the waters, and the Son and Divine Word (which was, from the beginning, "light"). What Divine Providence that the first three verses of the first chapter of the first book that comprises what we call "the Bible" point to His true essence!

So where am I going with all this? What is my point? If we haven't "gotten Christianity right" by today, then God has failed His promise to be with [us] always, until the end of the age (since we have clearly not been with Him), and God has failed His promise to build a new covenant with us written on our hearts that will not be broken (since we have failed to recognize that covenant since its inception), and God has failed His promise that His church would not be overcome by the gates of the netherworld (for all those "Christians" who have thus died in vain for nearly 20 centuries).

Christianity does not need to be scrapped and started from scratch. It needs to be re-united, it must be made one again, as the Son and the Father are one. This unity will not arrive at the snapping of fingers, but at the breaking of bread.

Peace be with you all.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Religion: When will we "get Christianity right"?

I don't mean for this to be an abrasive, offensive, inflammatory, degrading, derisive, disrespectful, or arrogant post. But it's going to come off that way. It's said that "the devil is in the details" (although I can't really find a source or date of origin for the phrase). I have a feeling, though, it's true in this case.

That Jesus Christ is God is the crux (no pun intended) of Christianity. Why, then, so many divisions, schisms, separations, heresies, etc.? One would hope it was not Jesus's desire to divide Christian from Christian (though he did come to divide us based on whether we believe in him, Matthew 10:34). Then can we not say the Devil has continued his toil against our salvation by pitting Christian brother against Christian brother? Is not the Devil in the details which separate one denomination from another?

I would like to see a chart that shows the geographical and chronological origins of the various denominations of Christianity; if someone could find this (online or not) I would be most grateful. As a Roman Catholic, I can't help but wonder why after the Eastern Orthodox split off, Anglicans split off, or the Lutherans split off, anyone else had to dissent to such a degree as to rally a group around themselves (excuse me, I mean: around Jesus). Why Baptist over Presbyterian? Why Methodist over Pentecostal?

What's even more astonishing is that there are new "denominations" every day, it seems, as though everyone over the past 2000 years, reformers included, have just "not gotten it". I think that by ignoring the history of Christianity, they assume it formed out of a vacuum and that the Bible showed up on their doorsteps one day with no one to explain it. The Church has always existed since Jesus told Simon Bar-Jonah, "you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18)... yet those few words alone have sparked fiery debate. Nevertheless, there has always been the Church, and to think that it went so off track so early in its existence speaks very poorly of the will of God and His promise to us: "I am with you always, until the end of the age" (Matthew 28:20). This was an echo of what the Spirit said through the prophets:
  • Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the LORD, who has mercy on you. (Isaiah 54:10)
  • This is the covenant with them which I myself have made, says the LORD: My spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth Shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children Nor the mouths of your children's children from now on and forever, says the LORD. (Isaiah 59:21)
  • One heart and one way I will give them, that they may fear me always, to their own good and that of their children after them. I will make with them an eternal covenant, never to cease doing good to them; into their hearts I will put the fear of me, that they may never depart from me. (Jeremiah 32:39-40)
For the sake of ecumenicalism, I won't continue my questions for non-Catholics, but I will end with this final question for all Christians: what would it take to unite Christians into a single church, the Ancient Church that was founded by Jesus during his ministry, a truly catholic (universal) church?

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Theology: Forgiveness of sins... righting of wrongs

At ChristianForums.com, I've become involved in a thread on this question: "How exactly do I repent for my sins?" One member of the site, Treasurer, quoted Luke 19:1-10, where the sinful tax collector Zacchaeus shows his repentance by donating half his possessions to the poor and by promising to repay any amount he has cheated the taxpayers out of. Notice that Zacchaeus is demonstrating his faith by works: donation (almsgiving) as well as correcting the problems caused by his sins.

This is one place where Catholic theology differs from most Protestant theologies. We all agree that through Christ's sacrifice we have forgiveness of sins, but Catholics recognize that Christ has covered the eternal payment due for our sinful nature, specifically, our spiritual death, our eternal separation from God. Jesus never promised us that his sacrifice would fix the temporal problems we have created for others when we sinned. In fact, Jesus tells us that it is up to us to deal with the temporal situation:

Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Here we see Jesus telling us (through the apostles) to make amends with the person whom we have wronged (or who has wronged us). Clearly it is unreasonable to expect that we will be able to undo every evil that our sins have caused, especially as we consider sins of months and years past -- who can even remember all the sins they have committed? We pray that God recognizes our efforts to correct those we do remember and can correct. But this does not mean we can just "write off" all the evil as unfixable just because some of it is beyond our power to correct! The person I insulted yesterday might still be hurting, even though I have asked God to forgive me for my unkindness (and therefore I am not "hurting"). What reason could I possibly have for not going back to that person and righting the wrong I have committed by apologizing (at the very least)?!

If we hold ourselves unaccountable for the ramifications of our sins, what is stopping us from living in a manner truly detrimental to our neighbors, and excusing our actions as being "covered" by the grace of God through belief in Jesus Christ? Imagine how terrible this life would be if we submitted to injustice in the flesh at the same time as we benefited from justice in the spirit! I will not accept such hypocrisy from myself. Jesus demands that we "go and do likewise" (Luke 10:37), and I will accept that command with all it entails.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 3

Who is Eve's seed? Commentary on Genesis 3:14-15 (two posts, here and here).

Was the fruit an apple? I have a brief analysis of "apple" in the Bible (with a couple omissions from the Song of Songs, sorry). I'm curious when the adoption of the apple in the artwork of the Garden of Eden occurred -- as Wikipedia informs me, the Latin words for "apple" and "evil" are similar: malus and malum.

Scripture Questions

  1. Compare what God says in Genesis 2:16-17 with the snake's quotation in Genesis 3:1. How does the snake misquote God? What is the effect of the snake's misquotation?
    The snake speaks as if God forbade the eating of any fruit from any tree. This puts Eve "on the defensive", and she replies by saying that they are allowed to eat of the fruit of all trees but one, the tree in the middle of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In describing the tree, Eve explains the penalty for eating the fruit of that tree, and in doing so, she gets it wrong...
  2. The woman does not quote God exactly either (Genesis 3:3). What does she add? What effect does her addition have on the picture of God that she conveys?
  3. God said From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die. (Genesis 2:17b) Eve says that they cannot even touch it.
  4. Why would the woman believe what the snake says in Genesis 3:4-5?
  5. She is probably seeking some rationale for why they were told not to eat the fruit, apart from "God said so".
  6. Genesis 3:6 describes how the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil appears to Eve. How is this fruit different from the fruit of the other trees (see Genesis 2:9)? If the fruit of the other trees is also pleasant and nutritious, why is Eve now especially attracted to this one?
  7. Like the fruit of other trees, it was delightful to look at and good for food, but it was also desirable for gaining wisdom. That's a pretty peculiar statement to make about a fruit.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. Has something ever become more attractive or interesting to you because it was forbidden? What did you do? What did you learn?
  2. Well, that's the nature of temptation. As a child, once you're told something is off-limits, you often end up wanting the object all the more. When I succombed to the temptation, it might have seemed "worth it" at the time, but I've learned that it's not.
  3. Describe a situation in which a temptation seemed attractive and reasonable at the time but later was shown not to have made as much sense as you had thought.
  4. ...
  5. Who do you tend to blame for your sins?
  6. Sometimes other people (such a person who provokes me), sometimes myself.
  7. When have you faced a moral choice in which it was crucial to trust that God had your best interests at heart?
  8. ...
  9. When do you find it most difficult to trust in God's care for you? What can you do to express your trust in him?
  10. ...

Internet: Weebls has an ADVENT CALENDAR?!

This is priceless. Day 24 is quite amusing.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Bible Study: Genesis 2


(4-7) There really are two creation stories in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2. One is not a summary of the other, they explain the relationship of humans to God in two very different contexts.

(16-17) Man is told not to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil... but is not forbidden from the fruit of the tree of life! The death incurred by eating from the tree of knowledge is a spiritual death due to sin (otherwise the tree of life would be extraneous).

Scripture Questions
  1. In Genesis 1, God gives names to the basic components of the world. In Genesis 2, the man names the living creatures. What does this tell us about humans?
    God, in making us in His image, endowed us with a sense of creativity and a desire to know things. When we come across something we've never seen before, we often ask "what is it called?" When we create something new, we give it a name. Genesis 2 is like the best of both worlds: Adam didn't create the animals, but he was seeing them for the first time, and gave them names.
  2. What do Genesis 2:8-9,19-20 suggest about God's purpose for the plants and animals on the earth?
  3. The "original" purpose was for plants to be the food for all animals, and for animals to be "helpers" for humans: for tilling the land, making clothing from sheep wool, etc. It doesn't even eliminate the possibility for getting milk from cows.
  4. Verses 23 and 24 are linked by the word "therefore" (NRSV, Catholic Edition). What is the narrator trying to explain? How would you clarify the explanation to someone who asked your help in understanding it?
  5. The union between man and woman is explained as the natural answer to the separation created by the origin of woman ("out of man"). They are natural counterparts to one another.
  6. How is the creation account in Genesis 2 different from the account in Genesis 1? What different points do the two accounts emphasize? Do the two accounts give a somewhat different picture of God?
  7. In the first account, God spends several days building up the earth, reaching the pinnacle of creation: humans. In the second account, God creates Adam first and then creates the plant-life that fills Eden and the animals for Adam to name. In both accounts, humanity is special: in the first, because humans are the pinnacle of creation, the last thing God creates before the earth is very good; and in the second, because Adam is the very first thing God creates, and everything else is made for him. God is the Creator in the first account, whereas in the second account His creative role is more as a father figure and a benefactor.
Personal Reflection Questions
  1. When have you been lonely? Is loneliness an inescapable part of life? How can you tell when someone is lonely? Is there someone whose loneliness you could relieve?
  2. When I first went to college I was lonely. Being put into a new situation, especially one in which you don't know anybody, can often lead to a sense of un-belonging and loneliness. I don't know if the symptoms of loneliness are universal, but people who look like they think they're out of place or are sequestering themselves are probably lonely people.
  3. How has work been a blessing for you? In what ways has it been a mixed blessing?
  4. I love my job: I'm at the computer, writing code, building programs, pretty much all day. I solve interesting problems and my company fills a very specific niche. However, there are times I forget it's my job and I have a boss to report to and other people I have to work with. Sometimes I get impatient or irritated by inadequate specifications or quick one-off programs. So although I enjoy it, there are times when my interest in it is outweighed by the gravity of the reality that it is work and not play.
  5. When has God unexpectedly provided something good for you? What effect has this had on your relationship with him?
  6. I'd say getting a copy of The Divine Office has been a help for me. It's bolstered my often-flailing prayer life and given me something to concentrate on for several minutes a day. I feel closer to God because of it.
  7. Who have been the most important helpers on your journey through life? To whom is God giving you as a helper at this stage in life? What could you do to better show love in these relationships?
  8. My fiancée Kristin, my sister Jenn, and my brother Charlie (a priest) have probably been the most "present" helpers over the last several years of my life. Now, as a member of my church's RCIA team, I feel I am being given as a "helper" to the four people seeking full communion with the Church. It's my responsibility to help in their education and shepherding, and to help them develop a healthy relationship with God.