I’m a Catholic, and I Occupy. Some of you are shocked, but I’m not alone.
Since all this started back in September for me, life has been insane. I’ve been arrested, pepper-sprayed and slept out in the rain, in the cold, intents and on sidewalks…I’ve been slandered, abused, called names, and I don’t mind so much. In fact, I’m not really bothered at all.
It’s because for me, Occupy is a response to the call for faithful citizenship. I Occupy because I’m Catholic and because the world needs justice. Do I believe that Occupy is the solution? Not exclusively.
Occupy fills a very important gap in society, that of an actual Leftist movement, a radical left that diverges from the neo-liberalism so content to settle within the establishment. I watched over the past 4 years as society began to crumble, as capitalism over-extended into culture and became in visible tangible results the poison that results from greed.
I’ve longed for other prophetic voices that would speak with the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah as well as the Apostles like James and John who would write and speak out. The following is James 5:1-6
1 Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. 2 Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, 3 your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. 4 Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5 You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. 6 You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance.
I remember reading Stanley Hauerwas and feeling like too few Chrisitians were aware of the severe disconnect between Christianity and capitalism in the West. I still feel that way, as though too few Christians allow their faith to question their establishment.
Christian theology became for me a language that questions not only my personal assumptions about myself and spirituality, but also about the nature of reality, the relation of the state to me as a religious individual. My epistemological approach is a thoroughly theological one, I know through faith, I think through dogmatics, I apply myself to critical citizenship through prayer.
It is my prayers that keep me going through this.
It is my personal responsibility to my neighbors, and not my commitment to any particular cause that fuels me. I believe that the most important ethic in this whole situation is a personal ethic of thick relations. It’s an ethic based on the idea that ultimately my actions are dictated by the concerns I have not for this or that cause, but for my neighbor. If the Church’s people remain silent in the face of injsutices that are not explicitly religious, we cannot expect to find solidarity when religious issues are under attack. Regardless of mutual aid, the Church has a responsibility to be the prophetic voice in the most traditional sense, calling for economic and social justice .
I will say this: I believe that the Church has a place in history in this moment, and that she should side with the populist cry for justice rather than the establishment that continues to undermine her at every turn. I don’t think that the Occupy movement is the most Catholic friendly movement in the world, nor do I think it is parallel to Catholic economics. However, the cry for justice unheeded and neglected by the Church would be a grave error.
I am a Catholic, I pray, I am the 99%.
Today, we’re talking about War, Christianity and The Church Fathers, here at the Practical Catholic.
Here’s the deal:
I’m not opposed to military intervention in Libya, nor am I opposed to nations preventing political and physical abuse of civilians. However, as Christians, we must take seriously the early Christians and their opposition to war. I offer you the following:
Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.
“The devil is the author of all war.” “We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”
Hippolytus, 170-236 A.D.
“A soldier, being inferior in rank to God, must not kill anyone. If ordered to, he must not carry out the order, nor may he take an oath (sacramentum) to do so. If he does not accept this, let him be dismissed from the church. Anyone bearing the power of the sword, or any city magistrate, who wears purple, let him cease from wearing it at once or be dismissed from the church. Any catechumen or believer who wishes to become a soldier must be dismissed from the church because they have despised God.”
“A person who has accepted the power of killing, or a soldier, may never be received [into the church] at all.”
I merely offer these as thoughts. I have many close friends who are soldiers, and I love them dearly, I sincerely think that Christians as a whole must come to recognize the importance of a Christian position against war, especially when our culture and military machine seem to claim self-righteous authority to intervene in global affairs.
As far as Hippolytus goes, I think he’s a bit harsh, but I can understand with some trepidation where he is approaching this from. I think that as we approach Christianity and approaches to war and violence, we have to take seriously these Church fathers and saints who challenge our culture’s obsession with violent answer to global problems.
God and war are a complex subject, and I am working through some of these things, stay posted.
So, everyone is up in arms about Rob Bell’s new book: Love Wins.
Robb Bell’s Universalism! Catholic bloggers are also up in arms!
If you’re out of the loop here’s why all the fuss.
Rob Bell’s nuances are seeming to imply that the much coveted salvation prayer of the Evangelical tradition isn’t the moment of salvation, neither are classes, seminars or other such participations.
HarperCollins’s description of Bell’s book, Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived is as follows:
Fans flock to his Facebook page, his NOOMA videos have been viewed by millions, and his Sunday sermons are attended by 10,000 parishioners—with a downloadable podcast reaching 50,000 more. An electrifying, unconventional pastor whom Time magazine calls “a singular rock star in the church world,” Rob Bell is the most vibrant, central religious leader of the millennial generation. Now, in Love Wins: Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived, Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith—the afterlife—arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic—eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.
What I see going on here is a strong movement of jumping to conclusions. Not unfounded ones, but conclusions that are nevertheless premature. One blogger out there has ACTUALLY READ THE BOOK in its entirety. Others, are quick to dismiss Rob Bell and his ministry as heretical. Now, as a Catholic, I’m not usually on Rob Bell’s side. We do not always agree. I do not think he’s always teaching the gospel. But what I see Rob Bell doing in what scant information is available on his book, unreleased as it is, is that he’s questioning traditional evangelicalism and mainline protestantism.
Rob Bell is living out the end of Evangelicalism, like a softer, kinder, more hipster Derrida, he’s found everything without foundation, and is looking to lay a new one. Or at the very least, undo the harmful byproducts of the old one.
An actual quote from the book is not far from the work of C.S. Lewis, the Catholic position, or a reasonable one found in most people willing to question the reformed tradition.
Love demands freedom. We are free to resist, reject, and rebel against God’s ways for us. We can have all the hell we want.
Rob Bell is simply stating the old addage that hell is a door locked from the inside. But what’s more interesting is that the vision he’s drafted while dangerously close to universalism, is also dangerously close to orthodox theology, and that’s what bothers the Calvinists and the other protestant mainliners. Bell expresses a view that might just decentralize going to heaven, and might just work towards a fuller need for thinking about the Resurrection of the Body. That’s awesome, if it is in fact what he’s doing.
Isn’t that the gospel message? That Jesus Christ enacted a sure victory for God? Isn’t that why we go to mass or church and celebrate? Is the victory of God really so foreign to us that we have to reject any celebration of God’s justice? Now, I’m not going to trumpet Bell’s praises, but I have to say, hats off.
The man took a risk, pissed off a lot of people and has brought a discussion of salvation into mainstream culture. Twitter exploded, Rob Bell was a trending topic, and the blogosphere erupted. This shows me a sign of hope. We live in a culture that wants more out of life and cares deeply about afterlife, despite the overestimations of atheists and some scholars about the widespread nihilism of our day.
The point of this book is in many ways a popular level version of the Theology of Hope by Jurgenn Moltmann, that eschatology isn’t something we should hide until people believe Jesus is the only way, and then spring on them that all their unbeliever friends are hell-bound. Nor is it an embarrassing end-note on Christian theology. Rather, the victory of God should flavor all aspects of our theology.
Lots of people are quoting Bell as saying that Hell is empty.
Now, if what Rob Bell means by “Hell is empty” is, that it is a place of non-existence because we’ve chosen to cut ourselves off from the one who allows us to exist, and hell isn’t a place but ceasing to have a place in God’s love, then that’s all well and good. That’s within the bounds of Orthodox doctrine on hell.
C.S. Lewis noted, “I have met no people who fully disbelieved in hell and also had a living and life-giving belief in heaven”. So, let’s be careful if Rob Bell is accidentally trying to strip our life-giving belief in heaven through shutting the gates of hell prematurely. I mean, N.T. Wright’s book Justification says many of the same things I hear this book saying. The quote above seems to be Bell’s landing pad in the end. That we can choose against grace, and in doing so we can have all the hell we want.
The Unhealthy Alternative
If by “Hell is empty” Bell means that everyone goes to heaven no matter what…we have a problem. If this is the case then, Christ is useless because God has massacred a man for no reason, or even solely for the reason of pouring out wrath on one so he could lassiez-faire the rest of us regardless of our actions. I don’t want to serve that God, and neither should you. This sort of cheap grace as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would call it, is exactly the thing I think the blogosphere might be mis-reading into Rob Bell. Now, I don’t think we have enough information to make a definitive decision on what Bell is really saying, but the quote from the book as provided above seems to make it clear that this is not Rob Bell’s point. I might be wrong, and trust me, I’d love to review the book when I can afford a copy, but by that time I’m sure we’ll all know what he thinks unless one of my well-connected readers has an advance copy they can get me.
I think Bell is simply pushing Evangelical culture to look at itself honestly and recognize it has very shoddy doctrine in issues of salvation nowadays. There’s no singular consensus among protestants except for the “salvation prayer” tradition of most evangelicals, and/or the infilling of the holy spirit experience of Charismatics. I think Bell has asked the right questions, even if in the end it turns out he hasn’t provided the right answers.
Evangelical readers: This is not the end of the world. It may be the beginning of the end of Evangelicalism, but that’s not so bad. Bell has set the elephants in the room in plain sight. Take advantage of this to walk away different. You don’t necessarily need to change, but be open to it, and you might be surprised. Look deeply at your beliefs through this book, and ask the difficult questions. Does your theology of hell say that Love Wins? If not, it might be time to examine more orthodox theologies, and see what God really might be saying to you. After all, isn’t part of the fun of the faith journey seeking after God Himself?
Catholic readers of mine, the gospel is unchanged and the Church has taught this from the start: Love Wins. The entire book of the Revelation to St. John says as much, our world expects as much from us. We’ve been lost in an eschatology that’s been emabarassed to tell the Truth because of the enduring problem of suffering people, but the Truth is…God has won and continues to win through the person and work of Jesus, the sacrament of God.
In Christ, we all win; apart from Him, not so much. But I think Bell wouldn’t disagree with that. If he does, we have problems, but I don’t think that’s what’s being said. The jury is out, but I am withholding judgment until we know a bit more.
The important thing in the end that we can take away from this heated debate is that God’s grace is alive and well in the world of today, and calling us all to reflect more truly a love that wins.
Welcome back to The Practical Catholic. I don’t exactly know why I’ve taken to welcoming you that way at every post, but I have, so enjoy. if it annoys you, leave a comment/complaint. Anyways, let’s get to it. Today’s post is a highlight, and also, just some really cool readings from the office of readings. I found them at Divinum Officinum, which offers bother Latin and English parallel versions of the breviary.
This is a readings for the upcoming Christmas celebrations to be read on Christmas day which I found particularly moving. Also, I just wanted to showcase a really awesome online breviary to help other Practical Catholics pray the liturgy of the hours and participate in the divine office.
From the Sermons of Pope St Leo (the Great)
1st for Christmas.
Dearly beloved brethren, Unto us is born this day a Saviour, Luke ii. 11. Let us rejoice. It would be unlawful to be sad today, for today is Life’s Birthday the Birthday of that Life, Which, for us dying creatures, taketh away the sting of death, and bringeth the bright promise of the eternal gladness hereafter. It would be unlawful for any man to refuse to partake in our rejoicing. All men have an equal share in the great cause of our joy, for, since our Lord, Who is the destroyer of sin and of death, findeth that all are bound under the condemnation, He is come to make all free. Rejoice, O thou that art holy, thou drawest nearer to thy crown! Rejoice, O thou that art sinful, thy Saviour offereth thee pardon! Rejoice also, O thou Gentile, God calleth thee to life! For the Son of God, when the fulness of the time was come, which had been fixed by the unsearchable counsel of God, took upon Him the nature of man, that He might reconcile that nature to Him Who made it, and so the devil, the inventor of death, is met and beaten in that very flesh which hath been the field of his victory.
I just want to say, if Christmas sermons sounded like this instead of upholding nationalist atrocities like the All American Christmas Tree in which as Stephen Colbert says, “appears as if Jesus, and George Washington teamed up and declared an independence from taste,” then people might not try so determinedly to get rid of “merry Christmas” from common vocabulary. If Christmas sermons were directed at spiritual formation and not just more nativity scenes, things might be different. I think the best thing we can remember about Christmas is that commodification and commercialization is not limited to people saying “happy holidays,” and it’s idiotic to assume that only people who want to be PC about things are the ones “spoiling Christmas.” My point is this: People who are as emphatic about it being CHRIST-mas to the point of crucifying a Christmas tree as a marketing gimmick are just as bad as those they vilify. Christmas is about Jesus.
I’m just not a gung-ho enthusiast about keeping Christmas throughout the society we live in. This post will show you my struggles to understand why people are so emphatically for, or against Christmas. Sometimes I wonder what people would do if like Latin, some of these Christian phrases that became common in society suddenly dropped out all at once, would they leave because Christmas was simply uncool and/or unheard of?
Think about it.
We’ve already lost the “mass” part of the Christ-mass, since most of the people fighting Christmas wars are Protestants anyways. If someone wishes me a merry Christmas or is obviously Christian, I wish them one, if not, I don’t say happy holidays, I just say “have a nice day” or might still say “Merry Christmas”. What’s wrong with “Have a nice day?” or “Merry Christmas;” are we really in a society that thrives on the survival of the whiniest? Most people don’t care what you say, they just say it back. The point of all that was, seriously people, liberate yourselves from all the stupid ideas of what Christmas might mean to you, and come back to the gospel. A friend of mine wrote about the Annoying Ghosts of Christmas Present and I thought it was worth sharing.
I’m not ashamed to wish someone merry Christmas, but it doesn’t offend me if someone says “happy holidays” unless they’re at Church, where the only holiday is really Christmas. But Christians need to get over the retailers and other major businesses opting to make Christ irrelevant to their sales. Does it really serve the gospel if I make it known that I am a Christian and I celebrate Christmas and will tell you so as a closing greeting on my way out of your store?
The dropping of “merry Christmas” only makes one thing clear, we can see a it more clearly where Christ is being opposed because society is opening up about it. We should remember our position as pilgrims, aliens and foreigners, except in the Church. Stop trying to whitewash society with paint from the Kingdom.
Yes you have ridiculous atrocities of Christmas marketing that only further aggravate the insanity. No, making sure you can wish everyone a merry christmas or call it a Christmas parade will not solve the real issue. The real issue is a breakdown of the idea of tolerance and respect in free-society. But that’s my opinion. Moving along.
The Christmas Wars
Seriously; isn’t it ironic to anyone but me that we have “Christmas wars” and counterpunches? You know being that it’s the one time per year we celebrate the birth of the one we claim is the “Prince of Peace” and all?
Isn’t a “war” even a “culture war” in the name of peace or society almost always a moronic idea? I mean, seriously. Sometimes, society is going down the tubes and you need to make reparations and fight a culture war I guess, but I don’t think that “merry Christmas” is my kind of war. Abortion, sure. Charity for the homeless, for the abused and the overlooked? Always. Care for widows and orphans? That’s true religion. Those are wars worth fighting.
Fighting so that some distressed, disheveled wal-mart greeter wishes you a merry Christmas is absurd. Trying to get selfish corporations to ally with”JEEZUS” or “family values” so we can all feel better about massive amounts of shopping is ridiculous. Fortunately, we’re gettng the rude wake up call that all is not right in society and the gospel is not concurrent with any world culture except its own. Fighting a christmas war so we can call it Christmas is not illogical, because other religions are gaining currency to get equal footing, I just wonder if it’s the best approach to turn this into a war.
The Other Side of the Christmas Wars
I’m not trying to be a grinch, I love Christmas, despite my ba-humbugging. I love Jesus, I adore Our Infant Lord, and all that He has brought to us. I dislike that people want to prevent my celebration of my faith, I find it troubling, insensitive and wrong that my faith has to be stifled in favor of eastern religions, patriotism or a general cultural agnosticism.
Let’s look at the other side of this Christmas war thing. Some atheists have decided that this could be fun. To be fair, some people have thought that Christmas parades nation-wide need to be rebranded “holiday parades.” Some have thought it best to exclude either santa and nativity scenes or just nativity scenes in schools, or parades, or musicals. It’s absude and I offer a simple piece of advice: Stop it. Stop being snot-nosed brats. It’s a holiday. It has religious tones, but seriously, religion is part of what it means to live in the public square in free-society. Why should it be otherwise?
To be fair, no one wants Christmas admitted as a justification for gifting, as much as a sense of “Hey, other religions are allowed to celebrate openly, we even tolerate “pride parade” as a society, so why not Christmas?” Think about it. We can support a guy in butt-less chaps or shirtless in skimpy underwear for freedom, or liberty or self expression, (insert american liberty jargon here) but want to cover up any mention of a virgin, her child and a star. That simply makes no sense. From a purely objective standpoint, there’s no danger of a baby and his mommy in the public square in December, stop freaking out.
The Breakdown of Tolerance
It is absurd that some people respect the integrity of Ramadan, or Kwanzaa, but piss on Christmas. Is it right? No.
Stop it. Stop being such whiny litigious brats, and grow up. Are we seriously stuck in a society where tolerance means no one can be happy because a single person might become unhappy that someone had a good time?
What happened to the idea of tolerance being “Well, everyone does more or less what they want, and we respect the differences”? Tolerance in the American spirit is broken. It is ow used as a synonym for acceptance rather than what it should mean, which is allowed, but not necessarily supported. What happened to the days when America was about melting pots and a conglomeration of cultures? Nowadays our biggest export in this country is homogenization, the ability to turn everything into the same dull grey-matter that we surround ourselves with as a culture. Worldwide we’re selling secularization, MTV and Kentucky fried chicken, but it all lends itself to a synonymous breakdown of values, of worldview, and of culture. America’s tolerance machine is a bust, and we’re not gonna learn the easy way, it seems.
There are people looking to keep especially Christian religious acts out of pubic discourse, to which I say “Stop it.” We live in a pluralistic society that regards many faiths, so let them all have their claims, and if someone wants to call it a Christmas musical, so be it. If they don’t want to, whatever. Christmas is for the Church first, and secondly for the world. If we uphold it rightly as Christians, will we need a strong cultural Christmas in society? Probably not. But that’s going to hinge on Christian attitudes towards saving Christmas from Christians and giving it a robust dogmatic and traditional feel from within the cultural history of Christian thought and action.
Christmas in Perspective
I look at the above reading from Pope Leo, and then I look at the Christmas wars, and it tells me, “So what?” Someone wants to rename it a holiday parade? So what? Is this a Christian nation? No. Let people have their stupid “holiday parades,” and if you want a proper Christmas parade, go through the channels, and make one. So long as cities won’t prevent the expression of religion in parade form, we should all be fine.
The Savior offers pardon, and more importantly, redemption. Christmas is about the birth of an all new sense of time that does not hinge on making the world more Christian on the surface, but of making Christians and letting them infiltrate and leaven the world piercing through the deepest depths to cause the entire thing to ascend to God. Christmas is about Jesus, not “Christmas,” in the general sense. It’s about this little infant who is God’s gift to us, who has been gifted flesh, so that He can finally inherit us.
He comes bearing gifts, in that, He is God Himself as gift to us. He offers us Himself, his flesh, his sufferings, his entire life, he offers us tears shed and moments staring at stars, he offers us birth and being held against a mother’s breast. He offers all this, to conquer death and the works of the devil, who sought to destroy us through fleshly physicality which was prone to death but has been made alive to God in Christ.
The Spirit of Christmas
This is the Spirit of Christmas, humility, hope, and faith. Good will and benevolence and charity are all essential to the season also. I don’t fight Christmas wars because honestly, I find them pointless. I love Christmas, I expect the Church to, and to uphold Christmas, for the Church.
Behold, unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given. Just as God gifted Him creation, through His flesh, He gifts us back to the Father until the consummation when we are God’s gift to God, and our very existence is a full manifestation of that reality. God has entrusted us with far more than a parade, though by no means less than that. I am no detractor of Christmas pageants, parades, or floats, or caroling. God has given us a precious gift, and we would do well to learn to cherish Him in our midst, even when society makes it difficult.
What society does, or major retailers is the least of my concerns. I know I will hit some chords with some people, and not make some Christians very happy with this. Christmas is about Jesus. Parties and pageants express this, and they are well and good, but the Christmas wars are about so much more than merry Christmas. These wars are about the soul of a Church, not the soul of a nation.
Merry Christmas becoming a problem is a symptom, not the root of the problem. If you disagree, I would love to hear your thoughts.
But seriously, Merry Christmas. Now, get over it.
On November 12, 2010 Pope Benedict published an Apostolic Exhortation known as Verbum Domini, or in English: The Word of the Lord. I know his comments on Condoms have been making headlines, but this too is important and we need to respect that the Church has issued an apostolic exhortation on scripture.
“Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ, May the words of the Gospel cleanse us of our sins.” It is with those words that we thank The Lord for His Son, and the revelation He has given us in mass every week.
The Word of the Lord, or Verbum Domini is Pope Benedict’s post-synodal exhortation to the faithful. It is also the most formative document on sacred scripture in 57 years. That’s a long time, especially given all the major changes in biblical scholarship. The last document that dealt exclusively with sacred scripture is called Divino Afllante Spiritu. I think we’re in a very exciting time for the future of the Church, so I guess in addition to blogging about the Theology of the Body I will be blogging though this very exciting and formational document and commenting on implication of how it can affect our futures. I will likely do this on my main blog which has been a bit neglected recently.
But anyways, let’s get back to the good stuff. Verbum Domini. You can find a link to the Vatican’s Full Text here. There are other websites that are publishing the entirety of the document as well, but I found this one first, so that’s the link I have provided. For a good overview of the document and commentary aside from my own you might want to hang tight with The Sacred Page, a rather super-awesome Catholic blog.
I am tempted to just quote The Sacred Page in full, but I will restrain myself and merely interact with some of his same source materials.
The Holy Father says:
I wish to point out certain fundamental approaches to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church as a wellspring of constant renewal. At the same time I express my hope that the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity. (Paragraph 1)
I think it is important to take the Holy Father’s opening critique seriously. He uses the word rediscovery here. I think it is important we understand that sometimes Catholics are scripture-phobic. As a convert I know I have times when I reflect fondly on my upbringing because it placed the scriptures at the center of faith. Sometimes this focus happened detrimentally, but now that I have learned the place of scripture within the broader context of the Christian life it is wonderful to have a serious regard for and exposure to scripture in my personal devotions.
The Holy Father urges us to a rediscovery of God’s word in the life of the Church. He thinks that if this rediscovery takes place it will be a source of inexhaustible renewal. In other words, just because we had a synod, or because a document on the bible has been published does not mean the work is over, or that the conversation is ended. In fact, the Holy Father seems to be urging us to…gasp!! Read and interact with the scriptures.
Holy crap…this pope might be an Evangelical Protestant masquerading around with fancy robes to make us think he’s the pope. At least, when it comes to Catholics and scriptures, sometimes that’s the attitude that prevails among radical-“traditionalists”.
This pope has asked us over and over in his pontificate to take the gospels seriously, to take the Word of God seriously, to take Jesus seriously. He’s worked furiously, and fastidiously to make sure the Church embraces a way of reading both Church History and Sacred Scripture in light of continuity between the two and the Tradition that binds them. He expresses the hope that every ecclesial activity will be permeated with scripture, and that this permeation might be the fruit of our renewed vigor for the sacred texts and their proper role in both our personal and public lives.
We might even say that a good way of summing up Pope Benedict’s work thus far could be the famous maxim by Saint Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
Just a personal aside to my skeptical readers: “Before all else, I would like to call to mind the beauty and pleasure of the renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus which we experienced during the synodal assembly.” Pope Benedict knows Jesus, and has experienced an encounter with Him at a synod where the Church was working through scripture in the Life of the Faithful. I know, surprise, surprise, it might be scandalous to some people, but yes, Catholics are Christians.
The Word Made Flesh
The next issue on Pope Benedict’s agenda is outlining how the word is tangible in the writings of St. John, and how this tangibility can help us understand the need for scripture in our midst. He says, “The Apostle speaks to us of hearing, seeing, touching and looking upon(cf. 1 Jn 1:1) the word of life, since life itself was made manifest in Christ.” He goes on to talk about how we must proclaim this gift of the Word which we can see, touch, and behold, and how this enacts communion in the Divine life.
Benedict Continues as follows:
For this reason I encourage all the faithful to renew their personal and communal encounter with Christ, the word of life made visible, and to become his heralds, so that the gift of divine life – communion – can spread ever more fully throughout the world. (Subheading: That Our Joy May be Complete)
Again, the Holy Father is urging all Christians to renew their personal encounter with Jesus, so that we can proclaim and live out the gift of divine life, and His communion can spread throughout the world. This is amazing writing, and I am ecstatic. It is through this encounter with Christ Himself that the Pope seeks to encourage and foster a truly Biblical Renewal in Catholic Culture and life so that “..the word will be ever more fully at the heart of every ecclesial activity.”
In closing this post, I want to offer up the words of the Holy Father which are so pressing for our times. Taking his apostolic cue from the Gospel of St. John he invites us to grow in divine communion. Ultimately, working within Jerome’s maxim, what Pope Benedict XVI offers us is encounter with Christ Himself, and the knowledge of Him, through our knowledge of scripture. The Holy Father says, “There is no greater priority than this: to enable the people of our time once more to encounter God, the God who speaks to us and shares his love so that we might have life in abundance (cf. Jn 10:10).“
The Unofficial Patron Saint of lay-persons, St. Juan Diego strikes again. This time, with Interwebz. Alright, for those of you who don’t know St. Juan Diego is actually an unofficial patron saint of Laypeople, ask anyone who follows anything related to Guadalupe. But anyways, we’re here to day to talk about laypeople, and specifically, their cup of tea.
Matthew Warner over at the National Catholic Register published an article a while back on the way that some bishops are troubled by the Catholic bloggers out there. Bishop Gabino Zavala, auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles and Chairman of the U.S. Bishops’ Communications Committee expressed concerns over when bloggers take upon themselves the mantle of Magisterium and use judgmental, or hurtful language or engage in personal attacks. He said “Such actions shatter the communion of the Church that we hold so precious.”
While I do agree that some bloggers out there may take it too far with cynicism, surely what the bishop means by having us not “assume the role of the Magisterium” is not passive acceptance of anything that comes from higher-ups. Surely this cannot mean we are not to speak the Truth, or evaluate decisions with confidence. We might read the statement wtih cynicism and say that this is clerical elitism, but I suspect that’s not his point. I suspect his point is that the demonization of our leaders, rather than disagreement is the heart of the issue. I do not assume Bishop Zavala to be saying that Catholic bloggers should die off. Speaking pastorally, he makes a point. Catholics have not only the image of, but are supposed to have actual unity. They are supposed to have a unity that shows them not to be splintering at the seams with rage for one another, but in the common unity of faith, they are to be united even when disagreement is necessary.
The Digital Diocese
Bishop Ronald Herzog said, “Social media is proving itself to be a force with which to be reckoned. If not, the church may be facing as great a challenge as that of the Protestant Reformation.” I have to agree. The Reformation was a confluence of religious, political and technological changes that are being mirrored in our own day, but at a much more alarming rate. The Church has the responsibility to shore up Her presence online and lead the way in digital presence online. I thought long and pondered well the statement by Bishop Zavala, and I think implicit in his statement is a recognition of a second Tea Party in America. No, not the Tea Party Express, nor any other political Tea Parties. It’s a Lai-Tea Party (pronounced just like laity). A movement that is increasingly recognized by the hierarchy of Catholic bloggers and news reporters who are taking to arms with certain issues and even working hard to bring the faith into the digital age. The Bishops are recognizing the growing social force that is the Catholic blogosphere and the presence of the “Digital Diocese” in our everyday lives. The web has garnered reporters and pastors and made the Catholic online community worth contending with and recognizing.
To define the Lai-Tea Party movement in brief: I coined the term today, while thinking about the effects the Tea Party had on American Politics. The Tea Party is a social reform movement that started in America sometime between 2008 and 2009 and focuses on reforming American social life and fiscal life. The Lai-Tea party movement is a conservative social reform movement that is usually perpetuated by the laity, though some notable priests have made an online presence. This movement has actively devout Catholics hoping to influence politics, social justice, family and life issues, social media and even Church politics in the public sphere by pressing for Orthodox commitments to the faith. These bloggers are grassroots movements, often centering charismatically on the best and most thoughtful and Orthodox bloggers. They openly call for the laity to support certain leaders and agendas over others, and are haivng an increasing effect on Catholic culture in America. Evidence shows that these bloggers, and tweeters are strongly pro-life, devout and ardent for the Orthodox expressions of their faith. Not only that, they have a growing voice in American politics, pro-life organizations and grassroots business support. For example, a 30 year old mother of three might have a blog on culture and parenting, and have relatively little impact in her immediate social circle, yet have a following of 15-20,000 regular readers. This is a prime example of what’s at the heart of the Lai-Tea movement.
There is a growing Catholic lay presence in the goings of of Catholic life and culture in America. I think this can be a very good thing, especially because it is this creative and Orthodox laity who are fighting to retain the Tradition of the Church, and to revitalize her authenticity and voice in our own world today. The “Digital Diocese” is basically what Catholicism is online, a collection of various Churches coming together, and right now the head is loosely the Pope Himself through his Apostolic exhortations and statements on New Media. He’s the most outspoken of all the Catholic Bishops on New Media and Catholicism st least as far as I can tell. Right now this digital diocese has no specific Bishop, or head to report to. It is a growing web presence and mayhap should even have it’s own Bishop someday, but we’ll leave that up to the Vatican and Pope Benedict and his successors.
The New Evangelization
Social media, the New Evangelization, and the rise of the Catholic Blogosphere are all hugely important aspects of Catholic life in the 21st Century. New media is shaping the Church towards the empowerment of the laity to serve and evangelize.We must recognize a growing influence of laity in the Catholic Church, and that it’s not a bad thing. The 20th and 21st Centuries have seen a revitalization of lay efforts around the world, and with prelates like Opus Dei in the mix, empowering lay-people for active service is imperative. It is the call of every Catholic to be prophet-priest-king in their own way. Surely those with holy Orders have a special responsibility and means of exercising those, but this does not mean that the laity is irrelevant. The revival of lay-participation on every level of ecclesial life has been hugely beneficial for the growth and maintenance of Catholicism, and without the Digital Diocese, and the freedom of Catholic information online, I wonder how many Protestant conversions and eventual reversions would be stunted.
The Lai-Tea Party in Action
Speaking of the power of the Lai-Tea Party, there have been a few things we can speculate have indirect involvement of Catholic bloggers in their midst.
Huge news this week was the election of Archbishop Timothy Dolan to the Presidency of the USCCB. Reasons for the breaking of a tradition that saw the vote as more of a formality has been the subject of speculation since the upset. The New York Times reported “The vote makes Archbishop Dolan the most visible face of the church in the United States. It also suggested that the bishops were seeking a powerful and reliably orthodox voice to reassert the church’s teaching in the court of public opinion and to disarm critics who insist that the bishops have lost their moral authority as a result of their role in the sexual abuse scandals. Kicanas’ example was far from a shining light in dealing with sex abuse, and Dolan was obviously the most fit for the job. This election is a move to restore a credible face for the American Catholic Church, at least in the opinion of Phil Lawler.
I tend to agree with Lawler, but also have to cite the increased moral accountability demands from the laity. Lawler writes “As the expected ascent of Bishop Kicanas to the USCCB presidency approached, the bishop’s unhappy connection with the [Daniel] McCormack [sex-abuse] case drew new scrutiny—first from a Chicago radio station, then from Tim Drake of the National Catholic Register, and finally from groups representing abuse victims. These abuse victims, were a driving factor as well as the American Hieracrchy’s need for a new face with credible leadership. The laity spoke out, the Lai-Tea Party spoke out, and the election was given to a more credible leader.
Dolan himself denies the caricaturization between pro-life and social-justice issues saying “We bishops would bristle at the characterization that there are some bishops who tend to be more pro-life and family issues while others tend to the social-justice issues.” Whatever the case, there is a noticeably stronger and stronger influence from the laity who are pressing for more Orthodoxy, and a stronger voice on social issues in the public sphere. The American Church wants to be done with sexual abuse and timid leaders who wash their hands of situations will simply not do. It is my suspicion that the active proliferation of news across the web by laypersons and the Lai-Tea party had a lot to do with this election. In other words, thank you Tim Drake.
This Lai-Tea Party is not trying to break from the Church, or become the Magisterium, but has gained a considerable following, and is generating lots of talk and shared ideas on the internet. It is the voice of the Church echoing back to itself the high-standards of ages past. The Lai-Tea Party movement among Catholics need not be a bad thing, if we have the fortitude to recognize it as a correcting mechanism. An empowered and preaching laity is part of the Church’s acceptance of a type of priesthood of all believers. We don’t evangelize as in the classical world with ideas, and doctrines, as much as we need to show people that our faith is a matter of thought, heart, morality, and meditation. Catholicism is a life in service to God with a universal body of believers, not a collection of dogmas exclusively. The Lai-Tea Party wants both the social presence that social-justice advocates are pressing for, as well as an outspoken commitment to Orthodoxy and a swift handling of sexual abuse wherever it happens.
A Call to the Bishops
I think the bishops are right to be concerned about the dark side of all this, that is apologists, bloggers and general Catholic internet users who have mean-streaks and are not witnessing with the charity necessary to make positive witness. I think the bishops are right to ask us to remember charity, and love as part of our witness in the New Evangelization. There are big challenges afoot, and my call to Catholic bloggers and writers out there is to support the Bishops in making the change into the Digital Age. I mean there are a few ideas out there that might help in establishing what I have called a Digital Diocese. If The Bishops are wise, they might take up keeping tabs on their own local bloggers, or publish a document with guidelines and rules for blogging as a Catholic. There should be rules in place that safeguard readers from extremists, and generally cohere with the tone and nature of the New Evangelization. In other words, the Bishops can, by example and perhaps with their own blogs, set the tone and by example demonstrate how the faith is best communicated and taught.
But there is hope. The challenge is to the bishops to step up, and realize the positive impact this can have. You cannot keep people from blogging, or even from disagreeing with you, but you can establish guidelines that further the Church’s cause in the New Evangelization. Then Cardinal Ratzinger wrote “In proclaiming conversion we must also offer a community of life, a common space for the new style of life. We cannot evangelize with words alone; the Gospel creates life, creates communities of progress; a merely individual conversion has no consistency.” So too, a merely individual proclamation of the faith has no consistency. If the Bishops seek to outline guidelines of charitable communication so that the Catholic blogosphere can be a community of life it is possible. It is possible to create a culture progressing towards life, the Lai-Tea Party has proven that with the increased attention on Catholic bloggers even by the bishops and Rome. It is possible to establish a well ordered Digital Diocese, the impetus is on the bishops, their staffs, and Catholic bloggers everywhere to do so.
Bishop Herzog quoted above also said ‘… social media is not the latest fad, but a paradigm shift…”(emphasis mine).
My call to the bishops is to take advantage of the time and the way in which online Catholic culture is forming, and to step in with their presence, making themselves bishops in not just the physical world, but the digital as well. Maybe then the Church will recognize that the strong arm of Orthodoxy or the bleeding wrist of acquiescence to culture will always be the laity. Without contact with the people of the digital age, and recognition that it is the laity that will lead the frontiers of online participation, the hierarchy does poorly to establish an online presence. But if there is a motion to be drawn together, and take advantage of existing structures, we can do so much more.
A Call to The Lai-Tea Party
You know who you are. You’re a blogger, a mother, a father, a Catholic.
The New Media will either be Babel, or a type of second Jerusalem, a community that empowers people to go forth in loving power, towards social justice, towards upbuilding of families, towards a technologically savvy Catholic Church.
What it becomes is up to us, and I think we have gotten off to a great start. From where I’m standing, we have a lot to do, but we’ve already done so much.
The New Evangelization and the New Apologetics are not so much about refuting arguments or winning numbers as they are about developing connections with people in our daily lives and online who can share in friendship with us.
5Things to briefly Keep in Mind:
1) We are witnesses, and to that end, we must be united. -We must hold true the values of communion over conflict and common cause over splintered debates.We are the presence of the Church online and in some ways, we are the priests to the online world. We have a priestly vocation to embody Christ
2) It is ok to disagree, it is not ok to debase. -When arguing a point, winning the argument is not the most important thing in the world. Arriving at the Truth in love is. If you cannot reach the Truth through logic, drop it. It’s not the end of the world. I can’t remember the last time I got flamed and was excited to change religions or point of view.
3) We may have a growing social presence, but we are not the Magisterium. -We have a responsibility to embody the Truth of the Church, and to uphold that in our lives, but we do not have the responsibility to pronounce anathemas, or excommunications, or any other sort of unnecessarily inflammatory language.
4) Remember that online presence is as Spiritual and Moral as it is Intellectual and Social. -What I mean is, when you engage your online life, do so spiritually. Do it morally. Surf the web with charity, temperance, moderation, self-control. Sometimes those things can be challenging, but they are necessary. We are a massive laity, and we do well to act as we should, and in so doing give the internet’s Catholic voice not simply voice, but a soul also.
Young people [bloggers, thinkers and writers] of every continent, do not be afraid to be the saints of the new millennium! Be contemplative, love prayer, be coherent with your faith and generous in your service of brothers and sisters, be active members of the Church and builders of peace. To succeed in this demanding project of life, continue to listen to his word, draw strength from the sacraments, especially the Eucharist and penance. The Lord waits you to be intrepid apostles if his Gospel and builders of a new humanity.
-Pope John Paul II
With the Prayers of St. Juan Diego, St. Josemaria Escriva, Pope John Paul II and all the saints who pray incessantly for and with the laity, we should all recognize the call to preach the gospel at all times.
In Closing Our Father Benedict Says “… I renew the invitation to make astute use of the unique possibilities offered by modern communications. May the Lord make all of you enthusiastic heralds of the Gospel in the new “agorà” which the current media are opening up…”
To which I say, Amen.
What Follows is a more personal and apologetic reflection on some of the writings in Verbum Domini. The Pope’s latest Apostolic Exhortation is full of wisdom, insight and just generally awesome and highly quotable statements.
From “Dei Verbum” to the Synod on the Word of God
Pope Benedict makes some awesome statements on the Catholic relation to scripture in the bold headline which is the section I am dealing with in Verbum Domini. I think these statements deserve wider notice. I know lots of people are excited about this document, and a lot will be said.
I do not claim to be the best interpreter or commentator, merely a papist with a propensity for pressing admiration and appreciation of the Holy Father, and an affinity for Sacred Scripture.
Catholics love scripture. It’s true.
We love the Church that gave us Scripture, and we love Scripture, but most of all we love the encounter with Christ which we affirm weekly in communal prayer. We love that it is this encounter that drives our reflections on Scripture and the Church in the power of the Holy Spirit. We love scripture so much we made reading it into worship. If you don’t want to take my word for it, check out this post.
Moving right along…
Pope Benedict says of the synod fathers, “…We were conscious of dealing in a certain sense with the very heart of the Christian life…Indeed, the Church is built upon the word of God; she is born from and lives by that word.” Now, there’s a big misconception out there that Christians, specifically Catholic Christians do not know or care for the bible. That’s an urban legend. Are there Catholics who don’t know the bible? Sure. But to be fair, there are Christians of every stripe who are ignorant of scripture.
I know some of you are thinking…”Wait? Catholics say that their Church is built on the word of God and lives by that word?” Well frankly, yes. Catholics believe in scripture, in fact the mass is saturated with far more scripture than your average Protestant service. Further, remember how you have a bible in English? That’s no accident.
The fact that there is an English language at all is largely if not single-handedly the work of monks preserving scripture and culture in the British isles until English began to form as its own language. This language gave us Shakespeare and great poets and brilliant philosophers in no small way is most of English culture indebted to Catholicism and the monastic schools. Monks preserved the scriptures because they were so sacred that to let them pass from society would have been a travesty, this in turn gave us writing. Writing became popular again, which leads to Shakespeare and Coleridge and J.R.R. Tolkien and Chesterton and CS Lewis and John Henry Newman, and so many countless other
Pope Benedict says above that when the fathers entered the synod, they felt the immensity of their dealing with the source and wellspring of Christian life, Christ Himself and the scriptures that testify to Him. Now, I know, I’m a terrible vatican spy, because I’m actually seemingly defecting from the straw-man position that Catholics get painted with often. “How can a Catholic read scripture and still be Catholic?…There are things in their religion that aren’t in the Bible!” some people might say to themselves as they read thi
Well, the thing is, Catholics believe their religion to be shaped by and through scripture as well as the Tradition that comes to us through the apostles of the Early Church. But if we were to run the line of logic that says that Catholics do things that aren’t in the bible, so do Protestants.
I will keep going, just to drive the point home. Sound systems, flashing lights, priestesses, pastoresses, everyone owning a bible, communion with anything other than bread and wine, none of those things is in the bible. Megachurches, feel good preaching, microphones, youth church, children’s church, Wednesday church, sunday night services in addition to a morning service, revival tents, none of those are in scripture either, but neither are driving laws for cars or navigation advice for commanding a ship. So obviously, our view of scripture is wrong if we’re looking to it to be the guidebook of all those things.
The word of God is the heart of the Christian life. It would seem that the above quote implies that scripture is for the Church, which is something fundamentalists overlook.
The Word of God, that is Christ, is for the Church and offers Himself to her in every age and most especially in the visible signs of His presence through liturgy and sacrament. In the culture wars to present Protestant Christianity as the purest most pristine most scientifically accurate, or inaccurate, depending on your flavor of fundamentalism, there’s been something important missing. Christ as the Word of God is missing from the discussion and with Him the entire emphasis on the Church as the Redeemed body through which God’s manifold wisdom is expressed.
The elephant in the room for Protestants is the active role of where and to whom Scripture belongs. Catholics believe that scripture is God’s gift to the Church as an outworking of the Spirit’s guidance of the Church. Catholics have an answer, it’s called The Church. Scripture is for the Church, for her upbuilding spiritually and otherwise, it is for her growth, and her maintenance. It is for her renewal. Protestants may say that the scriptures are for Christians, but what they must mean by that is, scriptures are for those who affirm it through their experience.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think it’s important that we remember that we have to experience God, because He experiences us every time we pray, but we have to say that this experience belongs in a communal context. As a former Charismatic protestant, I simply affirm the idea that what Catholics call Tradition, I simply call authoritative communal-experience over time.
I’m still Charismatic-Pentecostal, but merely in the Catholic context, where I feel my charismatic tendencies find their fullest expression. The thing I love about Catholicism is that it is just like scripture. Scripture is a collection of witnesses to the actions of God in the world in His dealings with Man as Father-Son-And-Holy-Spirit.
Just like scripture is not a single witness but rather a polyphony of witnesses, so too Catholicism shares the same idea. No one saint dominates any of the Theology of the Church. Even Scripture is part of a multi-faceted choir which we call the word of God. First there is Creation, a multifaceted ‘book of Nature’ as it is called which testifies to something glorious as our source. The way Catholics and most Protestants read Creation there is more to Creation than naturalism.
Secondly, there’s everything from Genesis to Jesus which also forms the Word of God, embodied in His dealings with prophets and kings. There’s the sacred scriptures, and the apostolic preaching from the early church, the Christ from conception/incarnation to death and resurrection. Then there is of course the handing down of the apostolic preaching in what we call the Tradition.
Justin Martyr wrote a short book entitled the ‘Demonstration of Apostolic Preaching’ in which he emulated the stylistic approach of the apostles, quoting the Old Testament, verifying Christ as the culmination and using those combined things that had been handed on, he interprets the old testament and Proclaims the Word of God, that is Jesus, through the word of God, that is the tradition and the preaching. Finally after all these things and yet together with them is the final written word given to us by the Church in 382 with the decree of Pope St. Damasus I.
Are there distinctive voices that sing often? Sure. But that’s the beauty of it. The Catholic Church isn’t built on the teachings of one man, like a Luther or a Calvin, it’s built on the teachings of Jesus, and all 12 of His apostles, plus the elected replacement Matthias and the 13th apostle, St. Paul.
But it doesn’t stop there, the song goes on through every successive generation, even where some voices drop out due to unfaithfulness, or others become particularly strong, the Church holds that manifold witness and presents a single song with many voices. Every generation of successors to the apostles carries on this song. The Church presents her history to us full of people telling the story of God in the world, carrying on a single tune from earliest days.
It’s nice to have a long-standing witness that God never left the earth, nor did he leave humanity when he ascended. He does continue to speak, not through just a single man, or a single book of the bible, or even only through the bible, or only experience, or even the Pope, though God certainly calls and uses the Pope to establish and lead the Church.
The Church herself is full of other voices, other times and places shaping different parts of the song she sings. She is full of Christ the Word of God, on every level, in fact he is present corporeally at every single mass. The Church’s song is deep, robust and bristling with life and fervor.
The thing about being Protestant is, eventually you realize the song you’re singing is very small, compared the beauty of the choir just across the river. Sometimes as a Protestant it’s not even scripture that shapes your song, but the opinions of a local pastor who fancies himself a pope in his own right.
However, there’s beauty just across the way, there’s immesurable beauty of choirs and witnesses, just over the Tiber River. That same beauty is how Catholics approach scripture, in the fullness of distinctive voices, each author telling a unique but congruent story. It’s like polyphony, there’s multiplicity, but it’s still the same song.
The song that the Church sings is at the heart of the Christian life, we call this liturgy. The Song and the One it is about are the foundation and reason for everything else. It all makes sense when you get the right vantage point, and when you take it seriously enough to listen closely. So, next time you hear that Catholics don’t like scripture, think about music. You might think twice.
The Beginning of the End
Ultimately, with this not-so-little series my goal has been to show that both Fundamentalism and over-emphasis on “relationship” or “spirituality” without structure are both about how I am so much better than everyone else. They are both flawed overemphases of self.
At the root of Fundamentalism, and of Postmodern approaches to faith is the same mitake, one sin: pride. St. Thomas Aquinas affirms that “heresy is a species of pride rather than of unbelief” [Summa Theol. II, part 2, q. 11 art. 1.]. I think at the heart of many if not all Christian heresies, errors in the faith, is the sin of thinking we know better; we think we could do better or somehow make something better than what has clearly been established and affirmed.
I hope that with this series I have invited you into thoughtfulness, and if you have hate mail, I would love your comments too.
My attempt is to invite you into a broader view of what Catholicism is, and perhaps to see that there is more to Christianity than the fundamentalism of some, and more to Christianity than the liberalism of others. I have hoped we could all learn that the faith is deeper than we give it credit for on both sides of the great divorce from Reason in our understanding of Faith. Pope John Paul II said that “Faith and Reason are like two wings by which the human soul rises to the contemplation of truth.” I hope I’ve shown the importance of truth, and virtue in this whole process.
The Catholic Church is wider than some critics admit, and too wide for others. She is wider than disagreements with “religion” and more “progressive” than some care to admit. She upholds social values in an age where “conservatives” more and more care about fiscal policies and immigration than societal values and for the dignity of all humans, not just embryonic humans, though even these smallest of beings she preserves with all her might.
The Church is and always has been a broad place, a welcoming and large home for many children of the faith. Vatican II may not be your favorite Church document, but it’s a document of the Church and speaks to us with authority. Dislike does not give us Catholics the authority to rebel.
Losing MY Religion
I grew up in a religion that taught me about a man in heaven who wanted me to love him, and worship him. I grew up being taught that this was the most important thing in the world. I was never taught how to “play well with others” in regards to my faith. The funny thing is, we teach our children to share, to honor adults and to listen to wise counsel, but reject these notions as we grow up and think we know better.
When the Church found me, she invited me away from myself, away from my own little creation, away from a religion I had invented, and into the broad place, with wide-open doors where I could play with other Christians. Where I could celebrate God in a huge assembly, not just with some otherworldly people who had no idea I exist and who I could not relate to. She invited me to the communion table to share in Christ at the side of St. Augustine, St. Jerome, St. Athanasius, St. Josemaria Escriva, St. Therese of Lisieux, St. John of The Cross, St. Peter, St. John the Apostle, Pope John Paul II and others.
She invited me into a faith shaped by holiness and sacrifice rather than opinion and conjecture. She invited me into a faith that developed biblically and historically. She invited me into a playground where I could rest with God’s other children, and have a generous faith, a faith that had fences, but no to keep others out. She invited me to understand that these fences were to keep us safe and free from the dangers outside those curtains. She invited me to a tent of meeting, rather than a field where all manner of beast might pass by and snatch the unprotected.
She invited me away from my own idiocy and obstinate lack of virtue, to recognize others might know God better than I do, and to rise up to the level of my spiritual energies. She asked me to take a yoke upon myself, a true and great system of teachings, a new culture, a new life. She took me out of the spotlight, and invited me away from MY religion. She gave me faith in Jesus, a Mother, many brothers and sisters, and an enduring hope for the final day.
I am still developing, sometimes I am weak, sometimes I am angry, sometimes I am broken, but where I am weak and embrace the humility this brings, perhaps it is for our benefit. I know Jesus prayed that we might be one, and sometimes I come off a bit harsh, but this is my desire.
I desire that we might all learn to live together in peace. Peace cannot be had without the difficult and necessarily life-altering encounters made possible through honesty. If we cannot trust one another, we cannot live in peace. I seek that we may all learn to live together. I offer these correctives to Catholics to encourage them to seek out relationships with our separated brothers and sisters. I offer these correctives to protestants who would seek to say that we worship falsely, or are only religious without any spirituality.
I am learning to grow up, one day at a time, and I am deeply sorry where sometimes have failed in charity, or understanding. I can only offer the promise to work harder for my faith, and to embody not only an intellectual position, but a moral and spiritual one as well. My faith is slowly calling me from gripping tightly to a precious but imperfect thing, like the creature Gollum and his ring. The Church has called me into a full faith where we all share the same story, and each retelling might have a slightly different emphasis and perspective, but the story remains the same.
It’s nice to have a faith that calls me away from myself and into a broader assembly. It’s nice to have a faith that circumvents my obstinate obsession with my own opinions, on the one side or on the other. It’s nice to have a faith that strips me of a false precious, and teaches me that the reallly and truly precious thing is others. It’s nice to lose MY religion, to in the end have the religion that really matters.
I’d like to open by saying I find it hard to take postmodernism seriously, as an intellectual position or otherwise. This position is characterized by a strong hatred of any authority, good, healthy, or otherwise, at least on matters that don’t matter. This position questions religious authority, the nature of reality, and the objectivity of meaning, but is ultimately a waste of time. This position also continues to advance medicine as if bodies really and truly matter, and continues to sustain a global market that while in recession economically is ever-expanding culturally.
2) The Postmodern Position
This position says that we should pick and choose everything, because everything is relative. It comes at a price though, because its overarching dogma is that nothing matters except the idea that nothing matters. Nothing holds weight, everything is opinion in this view. In this view the world itself is subject to my interpretation and nothing holds water.
The postmodernist position defeats plurality through a higher singular Truth, that there are no absolutes. But if things cannot be more true, or less true on a spiritual level, why is this the case on a physical level? If one could say something more true and less true about physical reality, why is it suddenly the unspoken sin of modern culture to say that this cannot be true at all or spiritual reality?
“Your view is your view, and my view is my view.” This isn’t Catholic at all, nor is it Christian. I have lots of well-meaning Christian friends who simply want to affirm that anyone and everyone is right, and that all the christianities are Christianity. This simply cannot be the case. While we may affirm the separation of our churches, we should work towards a greater unity, and that unity has to subsist in and be fully shaped by our quest for Truth together.
Sometimes there are legitimate places where we may disagree or have a closely related plurality of views, but when this becomes a dogmatic “there is no Truth, no right answer, only your view and my view” you’re already approaching the argument from a flawed perspective.
Instead of hearing and meeting the other person to quest for Truth, you have imposed your pluralism onto them. Other times, this view takes the form of an over-spiritualistic view that says that the only thing that matters is that we all embrace the “spiritual growth” of one another, without any structure.
The supreme problem with this coalition of looslely associated views is that they form the other half of the problem of fundamentalism. It is nothing but a supreme form of arrogance to assert that a viewpoint is inherently on equal footing with every other simply because it makes you uncomfortable to seek actual Truth.
Further, if we look at how this is related to Fundamentalism we see that the means are different but the end is the same, the supremacy of self above all else. We see that what transpires is my self-assertion and my imposing myself onto reality to make it serve either my obstinate determination that only I am correct in asserting my interpretation of reality, or on the other hand that only I am correct in saying there is no meaning outside of me. Both views arrive at one conclusion: I, not Christ (by whom all thing were made) determine the shape and nature of the universe. Another name for this is pride.
A Brighter Christian Relationship
Let’s face it, we have all heard, if we have protestant friends especially, “it’s not about religion it’s about relationship.” My only retort is: If it’s about relationship, why is it not about relationships? What I mean is, why isn’t it about the way our faith is shaped with others? Why isn’t it about the way that others relationships with God can shape our own?
I think sometimes people forget that the saints had and have personal relationships with God that have shaped the Church far more than politics, or philosophies or any other thing. The saints are leaders, elders in the faith, and we can trust their experience of God because we know that God spoke to them. Such virtuous lives cannot but testify to the work of God, and yet sometimes people look at the lives of the saints and play the pharisee by wondering “By what authority is someone doing such miraculous works?”
The thing is if we took seriously the idea of relationship, we should see that it’s not only our relationship to God personally that matters, but God’s relationship to the entire Church should shape our own. If we took seriously that Christ is the light of the world we might notice that some people in Christian history are indeed illuminated.
A Relationship Together
We, in Christ, can trust each other, we cannot have relationship with God apart from the personal dimension, because all must behold God for themselves in the end, but we have to approach this path together. I think communion of the saints and the authority of the Church as doctrines make sense if we begin to understand the potential for a brighter illumination. If you’ve ever flown in a plane at night, sometimes you see a light or two in dark, rural areas, but what happens when you see two or three of those lights together? They’re much brighter.
In the same way, when we combine our little light, with the light of others, virtuous mothers and fathers in the faith, there’s so much more we can do. We can’t build for a New Jerusalem if we’re so busy building mini-towers of Babel to this or that idea, instead of joining in the one kingdom. There is One Faith, One Hope, One God, One Lord Jesus Christ and He has called us into the kingdom and given us apostles and prophets and teachers that we might learn how to truly follow in the Way of Christ.
As a friend of mine says, “Blessed is the Kingdom.” We bless this Kingdom when we enter into it humbly, seeking to unite ourselves to others instead of rejecting them. We build for the kingdom one brick at a time when we stand with other Christians, the faithful, the tested and the proven as prophets pointing us in the right direction. When we unite ourselves together with others who have light, we can truly build a city on a hill. You can’t exactly build a city without walls, without structures and certainly you cannot do it without others.
I love my girlfriend. And I’m proud of her taking the blog world by storm with her blog The Secret Vatican Spy. Her latest post is awesome, and I just wanted to chime in via the blogosphere and let you know that if you don’t read her work, please do. It will help you, it will make you laugh, you might be able to relate, or at the very least, laugh along. I just wanted to recommend that you read her latest post here.
In other news, I wanted to segue from the high praise of our favorite spy into something that’s been on my mind that is related, the idea of religion vs. relationship that seems to be so widespread nowadays.
Today we’ll address one half of the problem, tomorrow, the other half. Today we talk about Fundamentalism. Tomorrow Postmodernism.
Raised to Hate Religion
Lots of people hate religion. It’s trendy to hate organized religion. It’s trendy to be against the grain of authorities anyways. Our world has sold us the idea that organization is the problem. Of course, anything organized is inherently evil. I myself converted into a highly “religious” nondenominational church where the only rule was, we hate “religion”. Organization was and is evil, it only corrupts things. But when it really boils down to it we don’t mind organized medicine, or organized law, or organized education, because there are benefits to the system, right?
Yet, it seems that when it comes to religion, my personal ideas and experiences should be catered to at all costs. I mean, if the hospital doesn’t cater to my every request and give me a profound sense of meaning, I don’t mind, as long as I’m cured. On the other hand religion for many is a therapeutic product, instead of a spiritual discipline. I think that there have been lacks of emphasis on the personal dimension of faith in the past, but the answer is not to run to the other extreme and make everything personal, and all about me.
There are problems with this sort of personalistic tendency, and the first is that, you have taken the place of all authority and essentially asserted yourself over the Holy Scriptures, the Magisterium, the Tradition, the Saints and God. And this personalism has two sides. The Fundamentalist position, and the Postmodernist position.
1) The Fundamentalist Position
This position is often characterized by a strong sense of certainty, not in the Church, or in the Tradition, or in the wisdom of the leaders of the Church, but in my tastes. Many of my Catholic friends know what I’m talking about. There are holier-than-thou people out there who think that a vernacular mass is just one step above cultic devil-worship or just a cut above a really ugly non-Catholic service. I know some people who have intimated that a Novus Ordo mass is invalid. This position hates the idea that the organization can make a decision it is unhappy with, and vehemently fights for personal preference with a minority against the majority.
Fundamentalism in this sense is, taking my own experiences and turning them into universal law. Taking my own ideas and projecting them as the way the world should will things to be. In other words, a Kantian view of metaphysics, morals and religion. This position doesn’t operate under the authority of the pope, but of a new pope, a philosophical pope, Kant’s view of the universe and not the Church’s shapes such as these. I begin to act as though my own personal experiences should simply be the way things are, and this breeds a profound arrogance. When I am the measure of my own faith, and not the Church or her saints, something is gravely wrong and I might be honoring the wrong sort of authority.
All this is is the supremacy of a very flawed position. A church “looking back to better days” is not what the Church is. In every age the Church has risen to the occasion, from the gentile inclusion to the innovation of a standard Latin mass. Believe it or not, sometimes the Church is scandalously progressive. That we have nostalgia for a yesterday that does not exist, an “earlier” Church, where the issues we face today might not have been issues simply betrays our lack of ability to live “in the now”. Let me tell you a little secret, in every age, and in all generations the Church of Jesus Christ has faced problems and challenges from within and from without, without facing these challenges head-on, we would be horribly inept at saying anything to the world of today.
The Supremacy of ME
Ultimately, this position is an organized form of dissent that says ‘anywhere this system disagrees with MY interpretation of what it should be it is wrong,’ and where we find ourselves saying that, we have found ourselves outside the Catholicity of the Church and her Teaching. It is the religion of Me, the religion of my religion, the religion of my desires and thoughts on laws and strictures of the Church.
If you disagree with the Magisterium that is fine, but unless you have a god-given authority to stand on, like obvious saintly vocation, or some other extraordinary virtues to back you up as you go gallivanting about doing so, stop trying to be Martin Luther reincarnate and be Catholic. If you want to be a protestant go do so, but don’t bring your preconceived supremacy of self to the doorstep of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church and expect to be taken seriously.
I grew up in a culture and converted to a Christian faith that taught me the same, to hate religion and prize my own thoughts. They taught me to prize my opinion above all else, when Christ asked me to set myself to death. Jesus and His Church asked me to have the mind of Christ and make myself a servant. I can’t exactly serve if I am always assuming that I know best.
If I am a strong detractor of what I have come from at times, it is because I have learned a brighter path. But we’ll talk about that more, the next time.
Peace be with you.