Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remembering I'm A Creature, Giving Up The Liberal Dream Of Autonomy and Freedom

I just read some amazing theology that really cheered me up, here's the post for it.


I feel like my faith has just been revitalized a bit.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Is God Actually Forgiving By Nature?

A friend (who is a Protestant Theology Student) and I discussed this issue.

The question is: Is God actually forgiving by Nature?

As with any question in Christendom there exists no unified beliefs and so I will need to answer it by Groups of churches/denominations/theologies.

Interestingly enough he isn't forgiving in the normal sense we imagine here, because Traditional Protestantism holds to the Penal Substitution Atonement model whereby God (The Father) pours out his wrath on God (The Son) on the Cross whereby the sins of the Elect are atoned for. Therefore, God's nature here is only wrathful or Just if you want to use a nicer word. He never actually forgives an offense that remains, he demands restitution for every wrong even if it is paid out by Jesus. In the 'balance' of sin and wrath he is equal, there is no need for a forgiving nature because he's already dealt with it.

This is actually a yes and no answer.

Yes: Jesus didn't completely atone for your sins past, present, and future, as he does in Protestantism, it's more like you start becoming just and then if you're good enough he lets you in anyway after purging you a bit.

But at the same time, No, he isn't forgiving, because he's still making people pay for their lack of sanctification/holiness with purgatory, etc. So God is a little more forgiving in Catholicism, but still not very forgiving, not as forgiving as most humans are. Ex. If my friend Dan lies to me, I don't think an adequate reparation would be a lifelong torment.

Liberal/Modernist Christianity:
The Arians/Unitarians/Universalists/Liberals actually end up being the only ones with a God who is truly forgiving. Jesus death is usually viewed in these groups as an unfortunate mistake or as a supreme act of love in the Lombardian sense. God actually looks at people who are sinful and 'not good enough' and says 'I forgive you', he actually forgives them.

I'm not arguing for Liberal/Modernist Christianity, I'm a Roman Catholic, but I still think it's interesting that in my definition of the terms, they're the only ones who have a God that actually forgives, that actually 'gets over it'.

Shaken Spirituality

I haven't blogged here recently for a few reasons. I've decided however to just be my average annoying self and put a personal unacademic blog up. Feel free to stop reading if this bothers you.

The Unending Polemics
I was watching an interview with my favourite Comedian Dave Chappelle where he admitted to being Muslim but stated that he does not mention it in public because he doesn't want his personal flaws associated with the religion. I can identify with this as the main reason I've stopped blogging here this month. My faith has been shaken and is very weak right now. I feel like if I'm honest about my spiritual life, Protestants will use it to smear Catholicism as a whole and triumphally parade about how much better their religion is than mine (But I'm sure I've done the same to others alot as well).

The Reality of the Situation
I've not been able to take the Eucharist for the last 6 weeks because I haven't been to Confession, and so the only spiritual imput I've had has been the pro-life rants of our ESL priests or shallow humanistic sermons about 'being nice to everyone so we can go to heaven'. And of course the bold emphasis of phrases that people don't even understand like EUCHARISTIC SACRIFICE!!!!#$#!#%#!. I especially enjoyed the rant one priest gave about how Catholics don't believe in the Sacrifice of the Mass anymore and then didn't actually explain the doctrine to anyone.

I've been trying to keep my mouth shut for the sake of mother Church but honestly 80% of what I encounter there is a shallow cocktail of Humanism/Pelagianism and Legalistic Social Conservatism.

I have to also add though that I encountered in Evangelicalism, people saying the "Sinner's Prayer" for Candy at a youth event, and a pool party where people were baptized without really knowing it. So there's not really any church I've seen as great.

I feel like a Deist who prays out of habit. I really love Jesus and the Church but I feel like they could both care less about me. The Church makes me jump through a series of ridiculous hoops before I can even get in, and I don't feel like God has any thoughts towards me at all. Maybe Pelagius was right, because I swear that I pray and pray and nothing happens, utter silence. Sometimes I feel like I have partners in my doubts in the Bible though, the other day I was reading Ecclesiastes and Solomon flat out says that he has seen the righteous suffer, and the wicked succeed and that one shouldn't be too righteous, in blatant contradiction to Jewish theology elsewhere in the Old Testament. I've read in Lamentations when Jeremiah says that Good and Evil come from God, as well as Job's question "should we accept good from God and not evil?". So here's the 3 solutions.

Martin Luther, Calvin, and others in their commentaries on Romans 9 - 11 and their writings on Predestination regarded everything as completely as a result of God's predestination, Judas was just as much following God's plan as Jesus was, etc. I read either Melancthon or Bucer saying that Evil too was ordained by God which was interesting but horrifying. So there's your super predestination answer / Luke 13 , answer of God makes everything bad and good because of his arbitrary sovereign will.

I hate that answer, if you can live with that God, then may you live happily ever after, but I can't. Aristotle then knew more about justice than God.

It would probably involve making you feel guilty about masturbating and then result in "your own human sovereign free will caused all your problems" or something about not being devoted enough to Mary. I'll keep it in mind.

Why is there evil? why doesn't God seem to care about you? Because he doesn't. Simple but disturbing.

God help me.

Sorry about the awkward personalness of all this.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Trials of St. Paul

I was in mass this Sunday fairly bored by the sub-par preaching of an ESL priest who tends to think every biblical passage is about Abortion and Spiritual Warfare where the armies of Lucifer are led by - as he says - "Barrack HUSSIEN! obama".

But amidst all the arch-conservatism and superstition I was still able to experience what one theologian called the most "inspired" (pun-intended) part of the service - Sacred Scripture. We read:

"When he (Paul) had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. ...He (Paul) spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus." (Acts of the Apostles chapter 9, verses 26, 29, and 30)

The Early Church was not as nice to Paul as we'd imagine. We have to remember what a terrible person Paul was, he was a mass murderer. He did it for religious reasons as well. He'd be the 1st century equivalent to a modern Islamo-Fascist Suicide Bomber, a local head of Al-Queda as it were. That's Paul. And he converts to the religion he has been persecuting (Christianity). Now when he comes to the church to tell them of his "decision for Christ" (to use 20th century language), where do they sent him? Tarsus. Saul of Tarsus was his Jewish name. He was from Tarsus, his friends and family would probably be there. He was the prodigy, rabbi, boy-wonder. He had been educated as a "hebrew of the hebrews", and sat at the foot of Gamaliel, one of the most famous Rabbis of the century, and was known as a zealous Jew, because of his persecution of the Christians.

So only after they see Paul arguing with one group of Jews that starts planning to kill him, did they send him away (apparently they recognized the signs of conspiracy to commit murder now, after it already happened to Jesus). So where do they send him? Where's the next worst place in the world? Tarsus. Home. His old Stomping grounds. This was Paul's great tour of duty for the church, 'out of the frying pan into the fire' to quote Tolkien.

As a convert myself, I wonder what it would've been like for Paul to face his parents (if they were still alive), and to tell them about his change of heart and mind. To hear his father say "I have no son" as his mother cried and his brothers and sisters were too hurt to say anything at all. To be barred from his home synagogue. For him to walk down the familiar streets, meeting old friends who would ask how his Rabbinic ministry was going and how many heretics he'd killed, only to begin the embarrassing story about how he was now serving the church he persecuted. Instead of lofty appointments, he would be telling them about how he was beaten, and attacked, and hated. I think of the scene from Jaws where all the men are on the boat showing off their scars from various shark attacks, etc, and think that if Paul was there, he would've been able to beat Captain Quint. Paul would now have jail appointments rather than clerical appointments, and Paul describes his life very accurately when he says:

"whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him...I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead." (Philippians 3)

So the next time you are ridiculed for your faith, just remember the story of St. Paul the first great theologian and preacher of the Church, and remember "they sent him off to Tarsus", maybe you too are being called to speak the truth in love where you least want to.

I was reading a collection of the writings of Pope Benedict XVI and he quotes Augustine at length on the issue of martyrdom in the early church:

"the blessed apostles, saw the Lord Jesus himself hanging on the cross; they grieved at his death, were astounded at his resurrection, loved him in his power, and shed their own blood for what they had seen. Just think, brothers and sisters, what it meant for men to be sent throughout the wide world, to preach that a dead man had risen again and ascended into heaven; and for preaching this to suffer everything a raving, raging world could inflict: loss of goods, exile, chains, tortures, flames, wild beasts, crosses, painful deaths. All this for heaven knows what! I mean, really, my brothers and sisters, was Peter dying for his own glory, or proclaiming himself? One man was dying that another might be honored, one being slain that another might be worshiped. Would he have done this, if he hadn't been on fire with love, and utterly convinced of the truth?" - St. Augustine, from sermon 311, 2, "Preaching that a dead man had risen!"

St. Paul the Apostle, pray for us that we too might find the righteousness that comes not from the law, but Jesus Christ, that our hearts would burn as yours did and that we would gladly suffer the loss of all things for the Kingdom of Heaven. Paul our brother in the Lord, pray that even in our shaking faith, we would be able to do small things with great love, all to the Greater Glory of God, Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Throwing The Papists A Bone - 3 Stories

Today at lunch my Mennonite family persisted on bringing up my conversion, which I was very uncomfortable with. I'm starting to get tired of their would-be sympathy. It's a hillarious thing I've noticed among Evangelical-Catholic relations these days. The "Progress" consists of Evangelicals telling 3 types of stories:

1. The Accidental Protestants

This story generally consists of a 'godly bible believing Christian' (Evangelical) meeting a Catholic and then finding out that they use phrases like "Believe in Jesus" and "personal relationship with God" or "Saved by Grace", and they then assume that by the Divine Providence of the almighty, glory hallelujah the Catholics actually don't believe Catholicism, they believe Evangelicalism. They just like pictures and statues, but for all intents and purposes average joe Catholic is a Christian in their eyes because God has been gracious enough to make them accidentally Protestant and their hope at the end of life will be their anti-Catholic Protestant beliefs that they held while in the communion of Babylon.

2. Saved By Sola Fide

I have a friend from bible school who when she talks about denominations says "I don't care what you call yourself if you believe in Jesus you're saved". This is an interesting approach because at first it sounds open and ecumenical. But when you dig deep you find they really mean this : "I don't care what building you go in, as long as you believe what I believe, you'll be going to heaven" (salvation by sola fide, with extrinsic, imputed righteousness, with no saved church before Martin Luther, etc).

3. Trent Erasers

Finally there are some who have read recent Church History or books like Mark Knoll's "Is the Reformation Over?" where he declares Protestantism has won in Vatican II Trent is defeated, the Reformation is over. (His book on the American Military Victory of Vietnam will be coming out shortly - sarcasm). These folks think that because we utter the mass - still the greatest blasphemy in human history according to Luther - in English, that somehow makes it alright. God can now understand it, so even though it's blasphemy it's ok. They also fail to note that absolutely none of the doctrines of Catholicism were even touched by Vatican II, Trent and it's anathemas still remain. In fact Vatican II states itself that those who willfully separate themselves from the Roman Catholic Communion are jeopardizing their souls. But many simply take the nice wording Catholicism has used post-1960 and assumed that Trent isn't an issue anymore. I told a friend Michael that you can say we are saved by loving Jesus and it's the theological equivalent to saying we are saved by working for Jesus. Love and works are interchangeable in New Testament theology, it's just that one sounds nice.

So ultimately I decide not to talk with Evangelicals now about Roman Catholicism because the only way they will declare me a Christian is if I jump through their linguistic hoops and use their phrases. Then and only then will they say I might be a Christian but only because I'm an "evangelical Catholic" (a confusing term indeed). I definately take alot of my theology from my Evangelical Protestant upbringing but I wish to make no mistake with them, I am 100% Catholic. If I'm an Evangelical Catholic, I'm also a Papal Catholic, a Marian Catholic, a Tridentine Catholic. I also don't care whether some Anabaptist who has raped 2000 years of Church History just to play guitar solos in their sunday morning service, thinks I'm a Christian or not. With St. Thomas More I can say, my conscience is clean, I have stayed faithful to Christ's Church, a small merit amidst an ocean of my sins and faillures.

An old man (Evangelical) I met on a walk in the woods the other day tried to "save" me by telling me about Jesus only to be shocked that I'd heard his message before, I gave him my Evangelical Resume (Baptist Upbringing, Bible reading, Capernwray, Preaching, etc) and left out the Catholic part, he was 84 and I didn't want to bother him. I laughed though as I left, what a strange religion, he had a 2 minute plan to save me, Sola Fide seems more and more ridiculous to me each day, God's greatest plan for humanity was to get them to believe someting happened in history. No wonder Protestants believe Guttenburg was practically a messiah, the world could evidently be saved by teaching children in history class that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and then move on to the reigns of Augustus and Octavian. There's the master plan, man remaining in sin, believing something and being covered with an alien cloak of righteousness, God sneaking theives and murderers into his own house. Personally I'll take purgatory, purification, holiness, and a changed heart and life.

Sorry that this blog was so offensive to Protestants - especially Anabaptists - but please try and understand before you get angry yourself, that I've heard these 3 narratives so many times it's infuriating. The end is, I'm a Catholic, I follow the Pope, he's my earthly Shepherd, I confess my sins to a priest, I chew on Jesus' flesh, and I believe he will make me a saint. Throw in other words like "evangelical" if it comforts you, but as for this Papist, i'm Catholic and proud. (and as triumphalistic as Chesterton at this time of night).

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Eucharistic Faith

I've greatly enjoyed being Catholic so far, I'm getting comfortable with the new phraseology , instead of "as believers" I hear "by virtue of our baptism", etc. I feel like God has been teaching me very new things, different from what I am used to. I don't feel like he's teaching me theology so much as he is giving me experiences. I've been reading the parables more and I've found it amazing how important images were in explaining God and his Kingdom. I've therefore been trying to dig deep into the blessed sacrament and understand what it means to me.

I've been learning recently, what is commonly called in the Anglican and Catholic spheres "Eucharistic Faith". It's a faith fed by the Eucharist - Christ himself. As much as I love Aristotelian Metaphysics I don't like talking about Transubstantiation - though I believe it - but I like talking about 'The Real Presence' and how I meet Jesus in the sacrament. Instead of going into a hack job defense of transubstantiation, I'm just going to leave that to the Catholic apologists and tell the stories.

This morning at mass I was feeling a little cynical, I was feeling as though God would never talk to me or care about me, and at the same time praying that he would. I felt as though my prayers were screamed at a wall or lost somewhere in the space between earth and heaven. And in honesty when the Priest holds up the host and says "behold the lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world" my first thought is not usually "amen", but "I do believe, Lord help my unbelief". Today as the bishop consecrated the hosts I looked up at a picture of Jesus at the last supper and remembered in my mind the words of St. John Chrysostom that the banquet we celebrate now and the banquet of Christ's last supper are "in no way different". I love those words "in no way different". And I imagined that as I took the communion I was sitting at the table with Jesus. As I received Christ physically I knelt in my pew and closed my eyes. I began to pray to Jesus and it felt as if he was right there, words fail me in describing it, other than to say RIGHT THERE, within me, as if I was whispering my prayer into his ear. I felt like I was in another world as I made my words known to the Word of God and when I finally opened my eyes, suddenly I felt back on earth. I can't explain it, no one will probably understand it, Protestants will probably find it blasphemous and from Satan, and Catholics will probably find it trite and stereotypical.

But it was the most real spiritual experience I've had in a while. And so I understand the Eucharistic faith, and Holy Communion remains for me a light in the darkness. I was thinking today of the spiritual depression I'd had and then thinking about 2 lines from Tolkien "in the darkness a light still shines" and "may it be a light to you, when all other lights fail". So I've felt incredibly blessed to be Catholic - not to say others can't have meaningful experiences, maybe I'm missing out on the way God is speaking to them. However for my part, I'm learning to love the Eucharist and to meet Jesus there, and it fills me with hope to think that my faith can physically be fed in communion and that it remains a sign that God has not abandoned us, and that Christ will be with us, until the very end of the age.

May the Lord grant you an encounter with the risen Christ in the Eucharist, the good gift, the mysterium fidei.