Monthly Archives: January 2014

“The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

A few thoughts on accepting the authority of the Church, regardless of its sinful members, as a means of coming to terms with the right place of Holy Scripture and Marian doctrine.

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Recently I added my two cents to a blog post where the poster posted part of a letter he had received from a Protestant reader of the poster’s books. This Protestant was struggling with the poster’s arguments for the Immaculate Conception (the Mother of Christ being born without sin) and the Assumption (the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her earthly life). The Protestant, interestingly, is married to a Catholic and claims that he and his wife share most all orthodox Christian beliefs, but he cannot find clear scriptural teaching on either of these two Marian doctrines. I think I know his struggle, and I felt compelled to write the following:

Whether this is the issue for the reader or not, the question of Church authority played a big part in my dealing with Catholic teaching about Mary, and whether I would accept that teaching or not. So this is more of a personal response.

Having been in Protestantland for a few decades, and only just recently come into the Church, I can say I feel the reader’s pain. And the “show me where in the Bible” response just makes so much sense. But then I wrestled with the issue of authority and the Church won (I’m deeply happy to say). However, the Church “winning” is not to set the Church against the scriptures, rather it is to finally place the scriptures in their proper place, neither above nor below, but as part of the Church. And, though it is my responsibility to use the rationality God gave me as I seek the Truth, it is not my place to decide doctrine apart from the Church established by Christ and animated by the Spirit.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the best approach is to have an “I trust the Church, where else am I to go” attitude. This is not a blind, turn-off-my-brain approach, for it is also scriptural. Rather, it is about following Christ; it is about avoiding the “I refuse to believe unless I see it with my own eyes” attitude and, instead, to carefully and prayerfully trust. But that’s the issue isn’t it? The Church is full of sinners, has many troubling parts of its history (past and present), that to trust the Church seems like something only a fool would do – at least to someone on the outside looking in. I’ve been there.

Mistrusting the Church often arises from a “you shall know them by their fruits” perspective, and to some this clearly damns the Church. It takes a lot for a Protestant to accept the authority of Christ propagated through His Church, through the bishops and popes, and through all that sinful detritus that seems to clog the works. I find myself clinging to the words of Chesterton: “The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.” If we cannot accept that, then we will not accept the Church as the authority, binding and loosing, preserving and carrying forward the gospel as handed down and developed from the beginning.

But the authority of the Church is one of the great gifts of salvation history given to us. It is, in fact, a great relief. And if the Church has such authority then one should bow the knee to Christ by accepting what the Church declares as true in morals and doctrine – including its teaching on the Blessed Mother. Call me a fool, but I praise God for the Magisterium.

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“To Frances” – G. K. Chesterton’s proposal letter to his beloved

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“When we set up a house, darling (honeysuckle porch, yew clips hedge, bees, poetry and eight shillings a week), I think you will have to do the shopping. Particularly at Felixstowe. There was a great and glorious man who said, ‘Give us the luxuries of life and we will dispense with the necessities.’ That I think would be a splendid motto to write (in letters of brown gold) over the porch of our hypothetical home. There will be a sofa for you, for example, but no chairs, for I prefer the floor. There will be a select store of chocolate-creams (to make you do the Carp with) and the rest will be bread and water. We will each retain a suit of evening dress for great occasions, and at other times clothe ourselves in the skins of wild beasts (how pretty you would look) which would fit your taste in furs and be economical.

“I have sometimes thought it would be very fine to take an ordinary house, a very poor, commonplace house in West Kensington, say, and make it symbolic. Not artistic – Heaven – O Heaven forbid. My blood boils when I think of the affronts put by knock-kneed pictorial epicures on the strong, honest, ugly, patient shapes of necessary things: the brave old bones of life. There are aesthetic pattering prigs who can look on a saucepan without one tear of joy or sadness: mongrel decadents that can see no dignity in the honourable scars of a kettle. So they concentrate all their house decoration on coloured windows that nobody looks out of, and vases of lilies that everybody wishes out of the way. No: my idea (which is much cheaper) is to make a house really (allegoric) really explain its own essential meaning. Mystical or ancient sayings should be inscribed on every object, the more prosaic the object the better; and the more coarsely and rudely the inscription was traced the better. ‘Hast thou sent the Rain upon the Earth?’ should be inscribed on the Umbrella-Stand: perhaps on the Umbrella. ‘Even the Hairs of your Head are all numbered’ would give a tremendous significance to one’s hairbrushes: the words about ‘living water’ would reveal the music and sanctity of the sink: while ‘Our God is a consuming Fire’ might be written over the kitchen-grate, to assist the mystic musings of the cook – Shall we ever try that experiment, dearest. Perhaps not, for no words would be golden enough for the tools you had to touch: you would be beauty enough for one house…”

“… By all means let us have bad things in our dwelling and make them good things. I shall offer no objection to your having an occasional dragon to dinner, or a penitent Griffin to sleep in the spare bed. The image of you taking a sunday school of little Devils is pleasing. They will look up, first in savage wonder, then in vague respect; they will see the most glorious and noble lady that ever lived since their prince tempted Eve, with a halo of hair and great heavenly eyes that seem to make the good at the heart of things almost too terribly simple and naked for the sons of flesh: and as they gaze, their tails will drop off, and their wings will sprout: and they will become Angels in six lessons….

“I cannot profess to offer any elaborate explanation of your mother’s disquiet but I admit it does not wholly surprise me. You see I happen to know one factor in the case, and one only, of which you are wholly ignorant. I know you … I know one thing which has made me feel strange before your mother – I know the value of what I take away. I feel (in a weird moment) like the Angel of Death.

“You say you want to talk to me about death: my views about death are bright, brisk and entertaining. When Azrael takes a soul it may be to other and brighter worlds: like those whither you and I go together. The transformation called Death may be something as beautiful and dazzling as the transformation called Love. It may make the dead man ‘happy,’ just as your mother knows that you are happy. But none the less it is a transformation, and sad sometimes for those left behind. A mother whose child is dying can hardly believe that in the inscrutable Unknown there is anyone who can look to it as well as she. And if a mother cannot trust her child easily to God Almighty, shall I be so mean as to be angry because she cannot trust it easily to me? I tell you I have stood before your mother and felt like a thief. I know you are not going to part: neither physically, mentally, morally nor spiritually. But she sees a new element in your life, wholly from outside – is it not natural, given her temperament, that you should find her perturbed? Oh, dearest, dearest Frances, let us always be very gentle to older people. Indeed, darling, it is not they who are the tyrants, but we. They may interrupt our building in the scaffolding stages: we turn their house upside down when it is their final home and rest. Your mother would certainly have worried if you had been engaged to the Archangel Michael (who, indeed, is bearing his disappointment very well): how much more when you are engaged to an aimless, tactless, reckless, unbrushed, strange-hatted, opinionated scarecrow who has suddenly walked into the vacant place. I could have prophesied her unrest: wait and she will calm down all right, dear. God comfort her: I dare not….”

“… Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born of comfortable but honest parents on the top of Campden Hill, Kensington. He was christened at St. George’s Church which stands just under that more imposing building, the Waterworks Tower. This place was chosen, apparently, in order that the whole available water supply might be used in the intrepid attempt to make him a member of Christ, a child of God and an inheritor of the Kingdom of Heaven.

“Of the early years of this remarkable man few traces remain. One of his earliest recorded observations was the simple exclamation, full of heart-felt delight, ‘Look at Baby. Funny Baby.’ Here we see the first hint of that ineffable conversational modesty, that shy social self-effacement, which has ever hidden his light under a bushel. His mother also recounts with apparent amusement an incident connected with his imperious demand for his father’s top-hat. ‘Give me that hat, please.’ ‘No, dear, you mustn’t have that.’ ‘Give me that hat.’ ‘No, dear – ‘ ‘If you don’t give it me, I’ll say ‘At.’ An exquisite selection in the matter of hats has indeed always been one of the great man’s hobbies.

“When he had drawn pictures on all the blinds and tablecloths and towels and walls and windowpanes it was felt that he required a larger sphere. Consequently he was sent to Mr. Bewsher who gave him desks and copy-books and Latin grammars and atlases to draw pictures on. He was far too innately conscientious not to use these materials to draw on. To other uses, asserted by some to belong to these objects, he paid little heed. The only really curious thing about his school life was that he had a weird and quite involuntary habit of getting French prizes. They were the only ones he ever got and he never tried to get them. But though the thing was quite mysterious to him, and though he made every effort to avoid it, it went on, being evidently a part of some occult natural law.

“For the first half of his’ time at school he was very solitary and futile. He never regretted the time, for it gave him two things, complete mental self-sufficiency and a comprehension of the psychology of outcasts…

“He went for a time to an Art School. There he met a great many curious people. Many of the men were horrible blackguards: he was not exactly that: so they naturally found each other interesting. He went through some rather appalling discoveries about human life and the final discovery was that there is no Devil – no, not even such a thing as a bad man.

“One pleasant Saturday afternoon [his friend]Lucian said to him, ‘I am going to take you to see the Bloggs.’ ‘The what?’ said the unhappy man. ‘The Bloggs,’ said the other, darkly. Naturally assuming that it was the name of a public-house he reluctantly followed his friend. He came to a small front-garden; if it was a public-house it was not a businesslike one. They raised the latch – they rang the bell (if the bell was not in the close time just then). No flower in the pots winked. No brick grinned. No sign in Heaven or earth warned him. The birds sang on in the trees. He went in.

“The first time he spent an evening at the Bloggs there was no one there. That is to say there was a worn but fiery little lady in a grey dress who didn’t approve of ‘catastrophic solutions of social problems.’ That, he understood, was Mrs. Blogg. There was a long, blonde, smiling young person who seemed to think him quite off his head and who was addressed as Ethel. There were two people whose meaning and status he couldn’t imagine, one of whom had a big nose and the other hadn’t…. Lastly, there was a Juno-like creature in a tremendous hat who eyed him all the time half wildly, like a shying horse, because he said he was quite happy….

“But the second time he went there he was plumped down on a sofa beside a being of whom he had a vague impression that brown hair grew at intervals all down her like a caterpillar. Once in the course of conversation she looked straight at him and he said to himself as plainly as if he had read it in a book: ‘If I had anything to do with this girl I should go on my knees to her: if I spoke with her she would never deceive me: if I depended on her she would never deny me: if I loved her she would never play with me: if I trusted her she would never go back on me: if I remembered her she would never forget me. I may never see her again. Goodbye.’ It was all said in a flash: but it was all said….

“Two years, as they say in the playbills, is supposed to elapse. And here is the subject of this memoir sitting on a balcony above the sea. The time, evening. He is thinking of the whole bewildering record of which the foregoing is a brief outline: he sees how far he has gone wrong and how idle and wasteful and wicked he has often been: how miserably unfitted he is for what he is called upon to be. Let him now declare it and hereafter for ever hold his peace.

“But there are four lamps of thanksgiving always before him. The first is for his creation out of the same earth with such a woman as you. The second is that he has not, with all his faults, ‘gone after strange women.’ You cannot think how a man’s self restraint is rewarded in this. The third is that he has tried to love everything alive: a dim preparation for loving you. And the fourth is – but no words can express that. Here ends my previous existence. Take it: it led me to you.”

GK & Frances

Found here. From a letter Chesterton wrote to his fiance, Frances Blogg, which is reprinted in Maisie Ward’s 1942 biography, Gilbert Keith Chesterton.

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Go in peace

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: have mercy on us.
Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world: grant us peace.

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At the end of the Mass these words are spoken:

Deacon or Priest: “Go in the peace of Christ.”
or “The Mass is ended, go in peace.”
or “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”
All: “Thanks be to God!”

There is then the Recessional, and there may be a closing hymn, but that is the end of the Mass. However it is said, we are told to go in peace – that peace being the peace of Christ.

What does this mean, to go in peace? We leave the Mass, having been fed at the table by the body and blood of Christ, and enter back into the world. One thing is clear, this world is not at peace. But we, followers of Christ, must go in that peace which is the peace of Christ. We go into this un-peaceful world with and in the peace of Christ.

We live in a time and place where individualism reigns, and much of modern Christianity follows suit. Salvation becomes a purely existential affair, with great emphasis placed on one’s psychological and emotional state of being. Thus this peace of Christ can easily be understood as a feeling of peace one has, however briefly, at the end of Mass; a good, warm, fuzzy feeling of goodness and, perhaps, fellowship. Emotions are important, and the warm fuzzies are not nothing, but the peace of Christ is not (or not only) about how we feel. Nor is it merely that we enjoy some light and friendly banter with our fellow parishioners until we head for the car.

This is obvious, and I don’t want to present a straw man in order to make an equally limp point. We know that the peace of Christ is the only solution to the horrors of this world, the enmity between man and man, and between man and God. We know it is only the peace of Christ that can overcome the death that sits at each of our doors, and ravages the world. And so we know there is something far more substantial to this peace than peaceful vibes.

The closing words of the Mass are not the only time we hear about peace. In the preceding Communion Rite we already spoke words about peace. Immediately after saying the Lord’s Prayer, we hear and say these words:

Priest: “Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
All: “For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever.”

Then we go into the “Sign of Peace” section:

Priest: “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles: I leave you peace, my peace I give you. Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and grant us the peace and unity of your kingdom where you live for ever and ever.”
All: “Amen.”
Priest: “The Peace of the Lord be with you always.”
All: “And also with you.”
Deacon or Priest: “Let us offer each other a sign of peace.”

And at this point we turn to those around us, usually shake their hand and say something like, “Peace be with you.” Some might think this small exchange (of what might be derided as mere niceties) between the people of the Church is rather innocuous. But it is, in fact, a small moment of acknowledgement of our shared community of faith, and a little bit of “practice” for what we will be called to do at the end of Mass. We celebrate the peace between us and God, won for us by the sacrifice of Christ, and we begin to show how we are bearers of Christ’s image to the world by first reaching out the hand to those nearest to us and offering warm greetings.

The question is whether or not we carry this peace with us to the world. Do we embrace those final words of the Mass and seek to live them out in our daily lives, among our families, our co-workers, our neighbors? I can only speak for myself, and the answer is, “not very well.”

As a final note, perhaps an indication of our trouble with peace is how quickly our minds shut down when we hear the word pacifism. We tend to think pacifism as being fundamentally untenable. In a way it is. According to the rules of this world pacifism will not help one get ahead. Put another way, if one puts on the mind of Christ, then one will suffer. Christ suffered. The Apostles suffered. The early Christians suffered. Many Christians today suffer. But remember, it is God who fights our battles for us. We are called to love, and to be willing to suffer, for our sufferings in this life do not compare to the glory yet to come. If God is for us who can stand against us? Do not fear those who can merely kill you.

I write these words mostly for myself, for I am weak.

We get the word pacifism from the French pacifisme, which is derived from pacifique, but its roots go back Latin pācificus which comes from pāx (“peace”) + faciō (“I do, make”). In other words, pacifism means “peace making.” Note: Do not confuse pacifism with being passive. The word “passive” comes from different roots and is related to the idea of suffering, not making peace. We are called to suffer, true, but we are also called to be peace makers. They go together. Take up your cross and follow the merciful God. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy.

Without Christ pacifism makes no sense. With Christ, pacifism is the only choice. Go in the peace of Christ.

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Succession, Unity, and the Visible Church

A lot of this is speculation, and may say more about me than anything else. Anyway…

Apostolic succession maze
I saw the above comic a while back on FB. As expected there were a few hundred comments arguing back and forth about apostolic succession. Some saying it’s true, some saying it’s not, and some just disagreeing with the particular take on apostolic succession presented in the comic. As we expect, some of the comments got rather heated and caustic (to put it mildly). Christians love forsaking Christ in the combox. Anyway, I find the comic rather funny, but more than that, I find it both true and pointing to something I’ve been thinking about for some time: namely that both Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches represent The Church established by Christ, and Protestant and evangelical and non-denominational churches do not. (I’ll concede that, perhaps, not many Christians think of themselves as Protestant anymore. They’re probably not really “protesting” the Catholic Church, though they may still uncritically hold many anti-Catholic prejudices.)

First: Here’s the idea that’s been in my mind lately – Saying Protestant churches do not represent the Church established by Christ is not to say that individual Protestants are not Christians (or, for that matter, saying individual Catholics are), or that the gospel is not preached from their pulpits, or that the Holy Spirit is not active in their lives, but it is meant to point us to that critical scene when Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and accused him of persecuting Him because Saul was persecuting the Church, that we should then ask if that Church is still visibly with us today. I say yes it is visible, but that visible Church is not the Protestant churches accepting (or embracing) the spirit of division and denying apostolic succession.

aquila-and-priscilla

We might think as an analogy of the story in Acts when Priscilla and Aquila met Apollos, who only knew the baptism of John, and they taught him the whole gospel. If Apollos had rejected the whole gospel and stuck only with the baptism of John, he would be lost even though he still had some crucial piece of the truth – though God, of course, could choose to save him. In a similar way, Protestants who claim to know only Christ crucified, and then reject Christ’s visible Church, put themselves on thin ice. Further, Protestantism is as fragmented and dis-unified a group as could be. Remember, when Paul writes to the Corinthians that he knew “nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified”, that he was arguing their disunity demonstrated they didn’t really know “Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul was both pointing to Christ and defending the unity of the visible Church. They go together. Why not obey Christ fully within the Church?

The question one could pose is, what are you really protesting? What are you clinging to that is more important than following Christ and His apostles in their prayers and pleading for unity? Parsing theological nuances is interesting, wrangling over theories of atonement is somewhat important, but we must make sure we don’t fall into the trap that says: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is faith.” Faith alone leads inevitably to division. Love leads to unity. Faith is important, critical, required, but love trumps faith. Faith is not the greatest, love is the greatest. Unity is the result of love.

So back to the cartoon – and this is my real reason for writing this post – The Catholic Church views both Orthodox and Catholic together being the true, apostolic Church, though in schism and thus not without insignificant theological and practical differences that must be resolved. I may be selfish in this idea because I have friends who are Eastern Orthodox, and I was once at that doorstep contemplating giving my life to that confession, thus I want to see unity there. I know there is not unity as there should be, but perhaps hope, the other theological virtue, along with love, will have its day.

But it naturally follows then that the Protestant churches, being non-apostolic, yea even apostate, churches are in grave rebellion to the true Church established by Christ and maintained by the Holy Spirit. As implied above, this is not to say that individual Protestant Christians are not destined for the Kingdom of God, nor is it to say that all Orthodox and Catholic Christians are destined for the Kingdom of God. That is up to God alone. But if my intuition is right, why would one want to remain in an apostate Protestant church in outright rebellion against the historical, apostolic Church? Especially if one’s rebellion was really just handed down for generations and has lost much (or all) of its meaning? (Like either fervently or lazily maintaining a family feud for no reason other than that’s just what one is supposed to do.) Or especially if one is a non-denominational evangelical merely because in college one had a crisis of faith and found that the good vibes, warm handshakes, and upbeat music at a roommate’s church made one feel like something real was happening there (and there probably was).

I know many will answer with the predicted Protestant laundry list of arguments, but really, there are excellent, biblically grounded, Catholic answers to all of them – and if there are, even if the arguments end in a kind of tie, stop arguing and just join up. Bow the knee to Christ, who gave you the Church. One enters the Church not because of an argument, but because of Christ. Therefore one should not stay outside the church because of an argument. Come be with Christ, fellowship in His Church, partake of His body and blood in the Eucharist (Jesus Christ, and him crucified), embrace the communion of saints, do not harden your hearts.

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When Christ first came to Saul of Tarsus He did not say, “Why are you persecuting My Church.” Rather, He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” And yet, was not Saul persecuting Christians, was he not persecuting the Church? Had not Christ left the world? Paul was looking for real people, real Christians, looking for the places they worshiped, looking for the visible Church. He was not looking for Jesus. There is a direct connection between the visible, apostolic Church and Christ Himself. Therefore, if one rejects (not the same as criticizing or judging) the visible, apostolic Church one is rejecting Christ. Perhaps many who call themselves Christians are in greater jeopardy than they realize, like all those who say they love Jesus and hate religion. It may well be that those who make such declarations have unknowingly declared their love of an imaginary Jesus and have rejected the real Jesus.  Of course I can’t know anyone’s heart or what God will ultimately will for anyone, but I figure it’s at least worth examining oneself and the reasons for one’s choices in this regard.

In summary, I say do not remain outside the Church Christ Himself established because of weak arguments, tradition, laziness, what someone else told you, mere prejudice, what others might think of you, fear of the unknown, fear of being uncomfortable, or worst of all, pride. Perhaps pride and ignorance are the two main reasons why many Protestants remain Protestants. That’s the way it was for me.

As I see it, Orthodox Christians and Catholic Christians need to make a strenuous effort toward reconciliation, which I believe is already happening. And that Protestants need to repent of their rebellion and bow their knees to Christ’s authority (as do we all) which was and is promulgated through His apostles and their successors. I say this not to point fingers at individuals, but to speak in broad terms. We all need to bow the knee, but Protestantism, as an historical phenomenon, is a “tradition of men,” and is based on rejecting the Church established by Christ himself and maintained by the Holy Spirit, all in the name of self-determined Biblical interpretation. In other words, Protestantism arose not as a reformation, but as a rebellion; as a wrong response to very real problems. Protestants would have you believe the issues are theological, I know because I was one for more than 40 years, but in fact the issues are spiritual and of the heart. I would guess that most Protestants don’t know this, not consciously at least, and that there is something to “ignorance is bliss.” In fact, and this is the way I thought for most of my life, most Protestants couldn’t care less if a church is “apostolic”, not because they really don’t care, but because they don’t know they should care.

I have to come clean: I came into the Catholic Church in September of 2013. I’m a newbie Catholic, and naturally I have a tendency toward “Catholic good, Protestant bad” ways of thinking. I don’t want to be that way, but I did make a decision for Catholicism after years of careful study, prayer, and seeking the wisdom of others. Mostly, though, I made my decision in response to a call from the Holy Spirit.

The thing is, having been a Protestant for more than 40 years, and having wrestled with Protestant theology versus Catholic & Orthodox theology, I know the Protestant arguments rather well. I know the “laundry list” of Protestant reasons why they can’t be Catholic, and frankly, I know they don’t hold up. This is not to say I am much of a theologian, or Church historian, or even a good Christian, but I can say that the two biggest reasons Protestants remain Protestants are pride and ignorance. Ignorance of what Catholics really teach and, ironically, ignorance of what Scripture really says. Pride is that refusal to bow the knee to the authority of the apostles by insisting that oneself (or one’s pastor) be the final authority of truth. Sola Scriptura fails right at the point it is supposed to succeed because it finally comes down to interpretation – who is right, who wins, who has the authority to guard doctrine? Every man a pope as the saying goes. One of the fruits of Protestantism is rampant disunity, including a spirit of disunity that is worn as a badge of authentic faith.

The disunity between Orthodox and Catholic Christians is deeply troubling, and probably not unlike the grave disunity in the newly formed churches St. Paul addresses in his letters (I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Christ). And one could argue it’s due to ignorance and pride as well. What I see is that Catholics and Orthodox tend to be troubled by their disunity, though many may not yet see a solution. But the outright explosion of massive and inherent disunity among Protestants is deeply frightening. More than that, it speaks to something gravely wrong-headed and wrong-hearted at the center of Protestantism – a spirit of division based on personal interpretation of Holy Scripture (not unlike a consumerist “market economy” version of Christianity). In other words, the disunity between Orthodox and Catholic is a rending of a garment, a tear that is unnatural and needs to be repaired. The disunity at the heart of Protestantism is its reason for existence, not a result so much as the starting point, and that calls for repentance.

Commit oneself to unity, the kind of unity for which both Christ and the Apostles prayed. Repent each day. Remember that love is greater than faith. Pray continually. Embrace the Sacraments. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Commit to holiness. Be a saint.

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