Sunday, November 22, 2015

Is Catholicism Biblical? Second Wind

In my previous post I began to answer the question "Is Catholicism Biblical?"  I suggested that this may be the wrong question to start with and presupposes that the Bible is trustworthy in the first place.  After all, the books of the New Testament were declared so simply because they witnessed to the authentic Christian way of life and were those which were most generally read at the celebration of the New Testament/Covenant itself: the Eucharistic Sacrifice. So, asking if Catholicism is biblical is asking the second question first.  The first question ought to be is the BIBLE Catholic? 

To put this into a better perspective for my non Catholic readers - read the word "catholic" as the ancient Christians would:

Follow your bishop, every one of you, as obediently as Jesus Christ followed the Father. Obey your clergy too as you would the apostles; give your deacons the same reverence that you would to a command of God. Make sure that no step affecting the Church is ever taken by anyone without the bishop’s sanction. The sole Eucharist you should consider valid is one that is celebrated by the bishop himself, or by some person authorized by him. Where the bishop is to be seen, there let all his people be; just as, wherever Jesus Christ is present, there is the Catholic Church (Letter to the Smyrneans 8:2 [A.D. 110]).

When finally he concluded his prayer, after remembering all who had at any time come his way – small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world – the time for departure came. So they placed him on an ass, and brought him into the city on a great Sabbath (The Martyrdom of Polycarp 8 [A.D. 110]).

The Catholic Church possesses one and the same faith throughout the whole world, as we have already said (Against Heresies 1:10 [A.D. 189]).

Peter speaks there, on whom the Church was to be built, teaching and showing in the name of the Church, that although a rebellious and arrogant multitude of those who will not hear or obey may depart, yet the Church does not depart from Christ; and they are the Church who are a people united to the priest, and the flock which adheres to its pastor. Whence you ought to know that the bishop is in the Church, and the Church in the bishop; and if anyone be not with the bishop, that he is not in the Church, and that those flatter themselves in vain who creep in, not having peace with God’s priests, and think that they communicate secretly with some; while the Church which is Catholic and one, is not cut nor divided, but is indeed connected and bound together by the cement of priests who cohere with one another (Letters 66 [A.D. 253]).

In these selections the Church is called "Catholic" to refer to it's universality all over the world and it's authenticity as that which contains the fullness of Christian doctrine as handed down from the time of the Apostles. Therefore, the Eastern Orthodox or the Lutherans or any other particular group may suppose their brand of Christianity is indeed the most "catholic" even though they do not fully belong to the Roman Catholic Church.  I hope that makes sense.

Today and in the early Church people can identity the true Church (or that which contains the fullness of Christian doctrine and practice) by the "4 marks of the Church."  These are that the TRUE Church is One, Holy, Catholic (properly understood,) and Apostolic. Let us focus on that last mark: Catholicity.

In defending the (Roman) Catholic Church from novel sects that were springing up St. Vincent of Lerins (a Father of the Church and a major contributor to the conversion of Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman from Anglicanism) points to those characteristics as necessary prerequisites for the Church.

Notably, St. Vincent says the following under chapter 2 (paragraph 6) "Moreover, in the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all... We shall follow universality [Catholicity] if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses..."

In other words, if you want to find the fullness of the Christian faith find the expression of it which is spread throughout time and throughout the world.

I know of no other expression of Christianity which accomplishes such universality than the Roman Catholic Church (in conjunction with the eastern rite Catholic churches such as the Byzantines, Syro-Malabar etc.)

Again, to emphasize a point from the previous post, how do WE know that the Bible have any authority at all (particularly the New Testament?) Simply because the Catholic Church has told us so. It wasn't until the late 300's that we would see a historical development of a New Testament canon (list) of inspired writings.  Yet, THOSE books were "canonized" by an extra-biblical authority.  This is a part we don't often think about.

The books of the New Testament were chosen (along with an affirmation of the Septuagint canon of the Old Testament) as canonical because they were Catholic.  Those books affirmed what had been believed "everywhere, always, by all."  

So is Catholicism biblical?  Remember, first things first: who told you that the Bible was even a trustworthy authority in the first place? And if you accept that particular judgement which the Catholic Church made in the late 300's.. then why wouldn't you accept the other beliefs which the Catholic Church held at the time? Here is a final thought to ponder from St. Cyprian (another Father of the Church and therefore a witness of authentic Christianity in the early years of Christianity.)

The Lord says to Peter: "I say to you," he says, "that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church" . . . On him he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. So too, all [the apostles] are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? [the fullness of the faith] If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church? (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4 [A.D. 251]).

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Is Catholicism Biblical? First Things First.

I had a reader ask about the Bible and acting according to it.  I hope I understood their request correctly so, if I am not and that was you, feel free to comment and offer an adjustment!


First things first. Never second or third things first. 

Which came first the Church or the Bible? Certainly we all can agree the Old Testament predates the Church but, for Christians, the entire Bible is not only those books related to the Old Covenant (that compilation of books we call the "Old Testament" where "Testament" is synonymous with the word "Covenant.") Christians acknowledge a new, definitive covenant that God made with humanity through His Son, Jesus Christ. The establishment of that covenant came in the upper room at the last supper when the Christ (the Messiah, God made man) took bread and wine and declared the bread to be His body which we must eat and the wine to be His blood which we must drink.  He commanded us to "do this in memory of Me." 

Do WHAT in memory of Him?

Celebrate the Eucharist He was offering.  He offered up His body and blood at the Last Supper and fulfilled that covenantal act during His passion.  There was one offering that Christ made of Himself. His entire life was held in His hands at the Last Supper and His entire life was given in His passion.  

He said, "This cup is New Covenant (Testament) in My Blood..." (Luke 22:20) There - that offering of Himself - of His body and blood - there is the New Covenant.  HE, the Word of God Made Flesh, being offered to the Father on behalf of mankind, is the New Covenant; the New Testament.

These words (from the written Word of God) testify about a Testament centered in a Person.  The whole of Scripture - most especially those books centered around the New Covenant/New Testament - is all about the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ.  In the Old Testament/Covenant books that reality is hidden and foreshadowed.  The books of the New Testament/Covenant speak of the Word of God made flesh with unveiled clarity.  Nonetheless, all of the Bible (the written Word) refers to the enfleshed Word (Jesus Christ.)

The Biblical books were all selected because these were the books read in public liturgy/worship.  The 27 books of the New Covenant/Testament (which eventually became known simply as "the New Testament") were identified definitively as God's written Word and Divinely inspired because those 27 books were those which were in accord with the New Covenant itself and were proclaimed in the public celebration/offering of the New Covenant memorial sacrifice (Jesus said, "Do THIS in memory of me" and so the Church does so.)

I offer all of this to reframe the original question I posed. I asked in the title of this post "Is Catholicism Biblical?" However, HOW did the early Church determine what was to be in the Bible in the first place? If we want to know what is biblical we first must recognize that we are assuming that these 27 books of the New Testament (and the 73 books of the Old Testament) are indeed the written Word of God!  How do we know that the Bible is truly the Word of God? In other words, "Who said so?"

It was the community of Christians who gathered around and found their strength in the New Covenant offering of the Eucharist.  The Body of Christ (the Church) was centered in the Body of Christ (the Eucharist) and determined that certain books/letters were appropriately labeled as "Scripture" and "Divinely Inspired" and "Word of God" and therefore were authoritative.  These books were authoritative as the Word of God because of their connection and proximity with the celebration of the Word of God made flesh (Jesus in the Eucharist) as the Church fulfilled Jesus' words "Do this in memory of Me." The Church offered the Body and Blood of the New Covenant while hearing certain words in certain letters/books.   

So, first things first.  So it is clear that the Church obviously existed before those books of the New Covenant/Testament were even written. The earliest Christians would not have asked "Is this or that biblical" in the way some Christians would ask today simply because the entire Bible wasn't even written yet much less declared/recognized as God's written Word.  The Church was able to discern "These and not those" books are God's Word. 

Why did the early Church have any authority to determine what should be declared as the written Word of God, the books of the New Covenant/Testament? Does this mean that the Bible is not the only authority in matters of doctrine, faith, morals etc.? I would argue yes because unless we accept the authority of the early Church in determining what we hold as authoritative (the Bible) then we have no reason to accept the Bible as authoritative in the first place.

To summarize: The Church declared "THIS is the written Word of God." Ought we not listen to the other things the Church has declared? 

More on that in the next post...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Prayers for Paris

"Where you do not find love, put love, and there you will find love." - St. John of the Cross

During such a tragic time we need to remember the wisdom behind such words by recognizing that darkness cannot defeat the light so long as the light does not refuse to shine. So let your light shine.

May we always lament the reality of evil in our world and not only when it comes in heavy doses such as a terrorist attack.  May we react with horror to injustice wherever it occurs whether it comes in the form of a single child dying of hunger or brutality or the hundreds who have been killed in Paris.

May we pray not only for the victims but also for the perpetrators. If we don't pray for their conversion then from where will it come from? Love wins when love refuses to quit. Don't give up praying, don't give up.

Don't give up.

My hope is that this bold manifestation of evil in our world will not leave us indifferent but would rather draw out a holy desire in people of good will to live the truth of love.  Hopefully, it will be inspiration instead of horror which will wake our sleeping and indifferent world.

For the sun will always rise to scatter the darkness. But what difference will it make if no one looks towards the light to see the coming of dawn?

Moreover, we possess the prophetic message that is altogether reliable. You will do well to be attentive to it, as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. - 2 Peter 1:19

Monday, November 2, 2015

Would you let me be your Mother? - Anticipation for Consecration

“Would you let me be your Mother?”

I invite you to consider begining the preparation for total consecration to Mary from Nov. 5th to Dec. 8th (the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. This immensely powerful devotional lifestyle will transform your life.  Books such as Preparation for Total Consecration According to St. Louis de Montfort or 33 Days to Morning Glory or My Ideal, Jesus Son of Mary include daily readings and prayers to prepare yourself for this great grace of Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary.  Some helpful websites with podcasts and readings include Rosary Army and The Marian Faith Network
The absolute classic on Devotion to Our Lady remains "True Devotion to Mary" by St. Louis de Montfort.  If there is ever only one book you read on Mary this one is it. Our parish is selling copies of True Devotion to Mary in our narthex for $10.

At the heart of the lifestyle/spirituality of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is an acknowledgement of ourselves as sons and daughters of Our Lady.  It is a simple but heartfelt recognition of our relationship to her and being very intentional about that relationship on a daily basis.  It is letting her perform her motherly role in our lives as Christ’s brothers and sisters; His disciples.

Because of our baptism we have the life of Jesus Christ within us.  As St. Paul says, “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.”  (Galatians 2:20) It is because of this reality – this new life in Christ – that we are able to call God “Our Father.”  (See John 20:17) We who have the Spirit of Jesus living within us are thus able to cry out (just as Jesus Himself does) “Abba, Father!” St. Paul refers to God’s plan of adopting us in Christ as His true children through “a Woman” when he says “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman…so that we might receive adoption.  As proof that you are children, God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:4-7) We can call God our Father because our life is now that of Christ’s life.  His Spirit in us cries out along with our spirits to “Our Father.”

That same Spirit of Jesus in us also addresses Our Lady as “Mother.”  (Note: we do not worship Mary. We love and honor our Mother Mary as Jesus does.) We share in Christ’s filial relationship with His Mother! This is why Jesus makes some of His final (and therefore some of His most important) words in reference to our relationship with the “Woman.” This is the Woman promised to us in the Garden of Eden in Genesis  3:15.  She is also spoken about in Galatians 4:4, at the Wedding Feast at Cana in John 2:4, at the Cross in John 19:26-27, and as the Ark of the New Covenant and the Mother of Christ’s disciples in Revelation 11:19-12:17.) From the Cross Jesus tells Our Lady to look upon her spiritual child who is standing next to her; the “Beloved Disciple.”  He says to Our Lady, the New Eve promised back in Genesis 3:15, “Woman, behold your son!” He then tells that “Beloved Disciple” (which is really each one of us, too!) to “Behold, your mother!”

The disciple of Jesus is one who is being conformed to Christ through His Sacraments and a life of intentional discipleship to Him.  To be a disciple of Jesus is to take on the very life of Jesus; to become more and more Christ-like.  As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  (John 3:30) If we are to grow in the life of Jesus then we must allow His life to increase in us and become very intentional about allowing the thoughts, sentiments, desires, and relationships of Jesus to take hold of our hearts.  We must love our neighbor because the love of Christ within us impels us towards compassion and mercy.  We must love the Father because the Spirit of Jesus within us cries out, “Abba, Father!” Also, we must love our Blessed Mother because Jesus’ own filial love for Mary lives with us.  We only have to allow that love Christ has for His Mother to take hold of our own hearts.  If Mary is our Mother then we must honor her as we ought to (Honor your Father and Mother is the 4th Commandment!) and we must allow the Heart of Jesus to love Our Blessed Mother with our very own heart!

Why all of this explanation? What does this have to do with total consecration to Mary? Everything! Again, at the heart of the lifestyle/spirituality of total consecration to Jesus through Mary is acknowledging ourselves as sons and daughters of Our Lady.  It is a simple recognition of our relationship to her and letting her be our mother. Consecration to Jesus through Mary (aka Consecration to Mary) is entrusting one’s entire life to the motherly care, protection, and intercession of the Immaculate Virgin Mary just as Christ did. Like any good mother she will be about her work of caring for her children whether we acknowledge her or not.  However, if we acknowledge Mary’s role in our lives and let her be our mother then the graces of living this personal relationship with her will be immense.  We would be foolish to ignore our Mother!

This intensely lived filial relationship with Mary is one of the “Secrets of the Saints.”  If you want to grow in holiness very quickly then you must devote yourself in a radical way to the Blessed Virgin Mary as your Mother.  Allow her to form Christ in you more and more.   Accept in a complete and total way the immense gift of Christ from the Cross when He reminds us to “Behold, your mother!” Be like the beloved disciple who, after being entrusted to Our Lady at the Cross, went and “took her [Mary] into his home.”  Take Our Lady into your heart, into your whole life, into the depths of your “home.”  Let Mary be your mother.  Entrust and consecrate, in a very intentional way, your whole self to this Woman.  Your life will never be the same and you will grow in your relationship with Christ by leaps and bounds. Accept all of His gifts (especially Mary!) and then you will spiritually grow very quickly. You will see.

“Then He said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.” (John 19:27) Will you take Mary into your home today? “Will you let me be your Mother?”