Category Archives: Religion

Not yet perfected in unity: Church divisions in the U.S.

I am wondering how divided the Church is, or at least how divided Protestantism is today. I am reposting this from June 28, 2012. At that time I was on my way to becoming Catholic, and Church disunity was one of the primary reasons for my abandoning Protestantism. But do people even care much anymore about denominations? Are not the majority of Christians today mostly just choosing a kind of buffet-style evangelicalism? Even a lot of Catholics seem to essentially be merely post-modern pop-evangelicals in their faith and merely post-conciliar Catholics in there actions. And yet, perhaps this means we are even more divided than ever with each individual representing their own, personal denomination.

This was originally posted in June 2012.

“The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” (John 17:22-23, NASB)

I continue to be astounded by the number of Protestant church divisions in this country alone (not including divisions elsewhere). For most of my life I’ve only had vague notions of these divisions, and never considered them as serious. I have also lived mostly with the view that they can be ignored (because I believed they are someone else’s problem) and all I need is faith and the Bible. Now I am inclined to see these divisions as having informed my thinking more than I realized, as deeply troubling, as a testament to the questionable “fruit” of the Reformation, and I want to seek resolution for my own faith and life.

The following set of images gives a high-level overview of some of the more obvious divisions we find within Protestant/Reformed churches in this country. I understand there are many more divisions than listed here, but I think this is enough to choke on for now.

American Christian branches
to European founded churches

Click on the first image to begin the slide show:

These images came from a slid deck I found on a Catholic apologetics web site.

The copyright for the slides are held by:
Peterson, Susan Lynn (1999).
Timeline Charts of the Western Church.
Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI

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Archbishop Sample’s Bold Remarks on Classical Roman Liturgy

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Pope Francis facing ad orientem

Whenever speaking of priests and bishops I don’t really want to say, “He’s one of the good ones,” but I feel that way about my archbishop, Alexander K. Sample. I find him level-headed and wise.

Here’s a talk he recently gave on discovering the Traditional Latin Mass, or Tridentine Mass or, as it’s officially known, the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.

I too have a desire for the Traditional Latin Mass, somewhat out of curiosity, somewhat because I’m sorta studying Latin, but mostly because I want to be holy and I am weak.

That might sound strange, but my thoughts are simple. We are called to be holy. God has given us many gifts and various means to help us become holy. These include prayer and scripture, fellowship and peaching, etc. The Mass is a gift to us. God does not need it, but we do. The Mass was made for us and we are made for Mass. It seems to me, in terms appropriate to reverence before our Lord and Savior, that the more traditional Mass is a better fit with our natures and fundamental human needs than the Novus Ordo Mass, or Ordinary Form. In other words, the more traditional Mass encourages holiness more than the more modern Mass, and I need all the help I can get.

Many will beg to differ.

Those who say they are Christians but not religious are gravely wrong. All humans are religious. Religion, and religious activities, are given to us as gifts. And the religious impulse is part of our DNA, out there by God. Our nature calls out for religion, and for rites, and for reverence. These things really matter. In fact, I think in today’s crazy world reverence is more important than ever. The Traditional Latin Mass seems to have a great deal more inherent reverence than the alternative.

For more of the Archbishop’s thoughts on liturgical reform, here is a two-part discussion he recently did on Mater Dei Radio:
Liturgical Reform Part 1 July 20, 2016
Liturgical Reform Part 2 August 16, 2016

However, the Traditional Latin Mass is not a requirement for the Christian life. It is not a requirement for holiness. And many find the Novus Ordo Mass very encouraging. In fact I do too — I am still in the presence of the Lord, still kneeling, still praying, still receiving His body and blood. But I believe the traditional Mass is a gift that coincides and fits human nature best. I would like to have the regular opportunity to receive such a gift in my area.

I hope the Archbishop’s views continue to get propagated and accepted throughout the archdiocese. But I know he is wise and will not force anything. It is really up to us to discover it and ask for it. Fortunately for me and my family, our parish, which does not do the Tridentine Mass (yet), is generally very reverent and solemn, frequently includes Latin, and the music is often quite beautiful, and the homilies are good. Still, I would love the option.

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The Physicality of Faith

“Moses, Moses!”
“Here am I.”
“Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet,
for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
(Exodus, chapter 3)

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Recently I have been praying in the mornings. I created for myself a place to pray. I face east, light a candle or two, and kneel. I pray novenas and rosaries, move the beads in my fingers one by one, cross myself, bow my head. It’s not much, but praying this way a fairly new thing for me. I feel drawn to a more physical expression of prayer.

What is it about kneeling? Holding beads? Candles? What is it about these physical things? Some might say they are trappings, or hindrances, or worse.

Moses was asked to take off is shoes. Why? Did God need this? I doubt it. Did Moses? I’m sure he did.

During the Penitential Act of the Mass we strike our breast three times while saying this: “through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.”

We speak and we strike. It’s deep truth, it’s of the heart, it’s also physical. We confess physically, we worship physically. We bow. We kneel.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
(Psalm 95:6)

I am curious about the physicality of worship; the actual, physical nature of worship. Perhaps more than curious, because the emphasis on the physicality of faith is one of the characteristics that drew me towards the Catholic Church and away from my Protestant roots. I found a richness in Catholicism and a kind of poverty in evangelical Protestantism. I’m sure some would disagree with me.

I also find those verses in Holy Scripture that point towards, or mention, physical acts of worship more than merely interesting. We are physical beings. Christ is physical (fully man). He drank, he ate, he knelt in prayer, he climbed up the mountain, walked into the garden and out to the wilderness. He stood, strolled, sat, slept. He broke bread. He went to the temple. He was whipped, beaten, crucified. He is God become man — the “physical act” par excellence. He worshiped with his body. Our bodies are part of our worship.

Consider:

It is in the physical world that the intangible meets us. A kiss seals a courtship. The sexual act seals a marriage A ring betokens the marriage. A diploma crowns the years of schooling. A doctoral robe bespeaks intellectual achievement. A uniform and stripes announce a recruit’s training. A crown girds the brow that rules England. This symbolism bespeaks the sort of creature we are. To excise all of this from piety and worship is to suggest that the gospel beckons us aways from our humanity into a disembodied realm. It is to turn the Incarnation into a mere doctrine. (Thomas Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough)

Perhaps four bare walls and a pulpit is the symbol of a disembodied, even gnostic, faith. Perhaps the non-biblical, historically recent “doctrine” of the rapture speaks of that same desire to be free of the physical. Perhaps denying the Real Presence is just an example of fear — fear of our humanness, of our bodies, that God is actually one of us.

I can’t say. I wonder.

But I know the physicality of worship is everywhere in scripture, even in moments we might overlook.

And when our days there were ended,
we departed and went on our journey;
and they all, with wives and children,
brought us on our way till we were outside the city;
and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and bade one another farewell.
(Acts 21:5)

Kneeling on the beach. I would love to have a time machine. What is it about kneeling? Why not stand in a circle and hold hands? Or just stand around smiling with “Jesus in their hearts” or some such thing? No, they knelt — with Jesus in their hearts I’m sure, with love for each other, with the Spirit at work amongst them I’m sure, but they also knelt.

Is there a law at play here? I think so. Our human nature seems created for worship, and to do so with common, predictable, even specific kinds of actions. Why wouldn’t there be some similarity across humanity, across space and time? Scripture tells us this is true. Our nature, including heart, mind, and body, seem to cry out for a totality of worship — a combination of heart, mind, and body together in action.

We know that some situations just call for physical action, whether worship or supplication or awe…

Then Abram fell on his face…
(Genesis 17:3)

Then she fell on her face…
(Ruth 2:10)

And Jo′ab fell on his face…
(2 Samuel 14:22)

…and they fell upon their faces…
(Tobit 12:16)

…he fell on his face…
(Luke 5:12)

…falling on his face…
(1 Corinthians 14:25)

Across the ages, welling up from within their humanness, individuals act in similar ways. There is a physical connection, built into the human body, connected to mind and heart, to situations and contexts that call forth acts of worship, deference, and awe. Is this not a law of nature, of creation itself?

Does a law mean there is a right way and wrong way to worship? I think so — at least some ways seem better than others (I’m no expert).

Does a law mean one is shackled, suppressed, controlled? No. A law is the path to freedom — like the athlete at play, or the rules of the road making driving safely possible, or a structure of government laying the foundation for civil society. You don’t have to kneel, bow your head, and certainly not light a candle or face east. But if you do, you just might be doing something good for your soul — something fitted to your very being itself. It’s your choice. It’s a mystery.

Do we “make up” the law? No. We discover it, like a miner discovering the vein of gold, or an explorer finding new lands, or a scientist understanding a fundamental rule of nature. The law is like a gift — something good and precious, and for our benefit.

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Do we need to discover this law anew every day? No. We can listen and observe those who have come before us and have already discovered the law. But we can experience it fresh every day, for no day is the same, and life keeps moving.

We can look to the past.

And all the men and women of Israel,
and their children, living at Jerusalem,
prostrated themselves before the temple
and put ashes on their heads
and spread out their sackcloth before the Lord.
(Judith 4:11)

Why does God care that we act out our hearts and minds? Why prostrate? Why ashes? Why sackcloth? Today this is a curiosity, mere archaeology — see how strange they used to behave, clearly the actions of a simplistic people, right? Incomprehensible. Inconceivable. Perhaps we have become blind and incoherent in our sophistication. Perhaps we are the simplistic ones. We lost something precious, have we not?

Okay, ashes and sackcloth may be too strange for us, but how about some appropriate form of penance? Or some act of sacrifice? It might be good for us. How about kneeling in prayer?

We don’t act out our faith for God. I don’t think He needs any of that. But we need it, because God made us this way. He created our nature, gave us the gift of worship, bid us to worship rightly because in that we find life. It is for us, not for Him. Kneel because it is good for you. Face east because you know this is a tradition of the Church; facing towards the rising of the sun, pointing towards the new day and the harkening to the beauty of the risen Christ. Can you face in another direction? Sure. Which way is better? Discover the answer in your meditations.

Moses took off his shoes. He was standing on holy ground. Where is our holy ground?

And he took a cup,
and when he had given thanks
he gave it to them,
and they all drank of it.
(Mark 14:23)

There is no secular world, not ultimately. There, truly, is only the sacred. What we call secular is merely that which we grab for ourselves and call ours. But it is not ours. All belongs to God. Every one and every place is holy, sacred, belonging to God, made for His purpose. Sin corrupts much of this gift. We can fashion ugliness, do terrible things, turn from God in many ways, but God can make all things new and good, even our darkest actions, even our hardest hearts. All things are God’s, true, but there are some things which are called out, for our sake, to be seen clearly as holy — places and times that require worshipful action. These are great gifts of “holy ground” for us. The greatest is the Holy Eucharist — really, truly, and substantially Christ present with us.

The cup of blessing which we bless,
is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?
The bread which we break,
is it not a participation in the body of Christ?
(1 Corinthians 10:16)

We kneel, genuflect, bow, pray. We sing, chant, speak. We go, enter, stand, sit, be. We eat. We drink.

We worship.

Our bodies are made for worship.

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An inhuman experiment

body2

Imagine a medical experiment that goes like this: Doctors, searching for the most basic essence of the human being, decide to determine just how much of the human body can be removed and the subject remain alive and human. They take a willing or unwilling subject and slowly begin removing parts of his body. They remove feet, then legs, hands, then arms, some organs – appendix, a kidney, part of the intestines, genitalia, etc. – they remove eyes, tongue, lips, ears, then they start to remove some bones – part of the pelvis, some ribs, etc. The subject is still alive. He does need help and care to live, but so do babies, and don’t we all at some level. Is the subject still a human being? Yes. But have the doctors answered their question? Perhaps. At one level at least they have made a possible determination of the minimum physical requirements to sustain a kind of minimum human life. And yet, can we not say there is something more than gruesome and immoral about this experiment? Is it not also grotesquely wrongheaded?

How is it wrongheaded? It is wrong in two ways. The most obvious is that a human person is a combination of body and soul. To focus only on the body is to miss at least half of the equation, but more importantly it is to miss the combination of the soul with the body, and the vast mystery that combination produces. The other reason is that reductionism is not the way to understand the essence of the human person. There is no minimum, basic essence. Rather there is an immensity. One does not understand the human person by owning, controlling, dominating, dividing, dissecting, compartmentalizing, possessing, or compressing the human person. Statistics are interesting, but they cannot tell us about you, not really. Experiments might divulge some fascinating aspects of the creature called me, but we are ignoring more outliers than any good scientist would allow if we are to think the experiments got to something more than mere hunches about only rudimentary things. Human beings are profound, crazy wonderful creatures carrying within themselves the imago Dei. We cannot be reduced.

There is a similar tendency among some Christians to do with Christianity what those doctors did with their human subject above. Their goal is to get to the absolute essential, non-negotiable core that defines a true Christian from all other persons. The idea is to find the absolute minimum that must be present in order for a person to be a Christian. Favorite questions include such gems as “how can a man be saved if he lives on a desert island and has never heard of Jesus?” or similarly “what about those tribes in the deepest jungles?” Some Christians have taken traditional, historical Christianity and sought to strip away all that is unnecessary. Like cutting apart the human body, out go the sacraments, the Eucharist, going to church once a week or even at all, doing good works, fellowship and community, and everything else. Catch phrases like “I love Jesus and hate religion” are popular symptoms of this mindset.

But can we reduce Christianity to an essence? Some have a natural urge to make things simple, so they might say “faith” or “Jesus” is all it’s about. But both of those words are vast galaxies to explore. They are really pointers to riches and nuances and complexities that a lifetime is too short to come to their end. There is something more. Christianity is not a belief or a practice, it is not merely a religion, nor is it a culture. It is something of all those things, but more fundamental is the nature of it. Perhaps it is best to think in this way: Divine law is the mind of God, natural law is the expression of Divine law as the creation. Human nature is fallen, in other words it is the natural law corrupted. But even in our fallen state, we are still primarily the Divine law expressed in our createdness. And the rest of creation is also, in its fallen state, primarily the Divine law expressed as creation. In other words, there is a fittingness between us and the Divine law, and a fittingness between all that is properly natural law.

From Divine law comes the natural expression at the center of creation, the human being. Placed in the garden, made priests of creation, taught to worship and offer sacrifices, later fallen and struggling with corruption, human beings have within their souls and their bodies the design of religion, the hunger for cult, the patterns of worship, the need for meaningful action and sacred practice. That is why in all cultures everywhere there has always been religion. It is the way God fashioned human beings. To fight against this is to deny our Creator’s design, to deny the human composition. Humans are made for religion, for cultic worship, for liturgy and praise, for sacraments and sacrifice, and for embodying a priestly function in terms of the creation – we are to re-present the creation back to God as our offering to Him, as thanks for His goodness and love towards us. And it is important to see the interconnections of all this. Religion is not an add-on to the person. Religion is one of the most fundamental, essential, interwoven elements that constitute any human being. It is inseparable from our humanness.

To reduce Christianity down to the most basic, most simple of formulas or one-word creeds, is to go too far. To say “I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” is to make an inhuman statement. It is to go against the Divine law by going against the natural law. Many who say we are saved by faith alone misunderstand what faith means in light of human nature, in light of the creation. To say we are save by grace alone can also be misunderstood and abused, but properly understood it puts the action on God and thus opens the door for the riches of that grace, to all of the Divine law expressed in the natural law and making us fully and properly human. “Grace alone” points to the Creator and His design of creation, the deep imago Dei in all of creation, and most fully in human beings, coming into fullness through worship as the proper response. To dissect Christianity, removing anything that seems to be unnecessary may be a way to rid oneself of false doctrines and perverse practices, but all too often it becomes an ideologically driven means of drawing lines between those historical, liturgical, sacramental, and traditional kinds of Christians and the so-called pure Christians who are unencumbered by religion. In short, they have unencumbered themselves from the rich gifts that God has offered them, from the truth, goodness, and beauty of the natural law, and from their own createdness. This so-called unencumbered church is all too often the inhuman church.

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Six touchstones of the visible body of Christ

Christian churches come in many flavors. If we are to pick a church and stick with it, as opposed to the common Christian practice of switching churches like people pick their new favorites restaurants, then which characteristics or touchstones might we look for to guide us? I have in mind six touchstones which I will describe below. For simplicity I also have in mind the main “flavors” of Christianity to be Protestant (and its many variants), Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox.

As  a Protestant I was trained to see right doctrine as the primary , evidential touchstone of faith. Sola fide—”faith alone” in the right doctrine—was the bedrock of salvation. Where one went to church was ultimately based on what doctrine was preached from the pulpit; that was the key discriminator of any church, so I was taught. Sola scriptura—”scripture alone” as the only source of right doctrine—followed as a very close second in importance. I still tend towards placing a heavy emphasis on doctrine, faith, and scripture, though what doctrines I believe have changed over the years. How tightly I hold on to various doctrines has also changed. And I do not believe in sola fide any longer, and I do not hold to sola scriptura. (Let me say, however, that I do like the spirit of sola fide and sola scriptura. I like emphasizing the importance of faith and scripture. I just think the doctrines are wrong.)

I now see the CHURCH as a living, breathing, even changing thing—it is a body after all. Yet I know there must be something changeless and fundamental about the Church. Practice is important. Right doctrine is also critical, and the Truth should be preserved, but Protestantism has destroyed much of that foundation by systematically dismantling the pillar and ground of truth. (see 1 Tim. 3:15) This our inheritance who have been raised Protestant. This is a harsh perspective certainly, but we should all be greatly troubled by the profound dis-unity produced by the Protestant Reformation (which I see more as a rebellion than true reformation). If we look at the fruit we have produced then we should grieve this particular aspect of our history. I grieve that I have played a part in that dis-unity.

As I try to get a handle on what I believe, why I believe it, and what Church I should follow (Roman Catholic, one of the many Protestant variants, or Eastern Orthodox), I realize my Protestant training has left me unprepared to make such a choice. What criteria do I use? What are the key characteristics of the visible Church? I’m sure there  are many who would be eager and willing to offer an answer, for they have it all bottled up, but that’s exactly the kind of certainty with which I grew up and which I am leaving behind—not because I dislike certainty, for I love it, but that the further I go in the life the more I realize there is a great mystery behind all our certainties. I want to follow Christ, to be like Him, and to have my life be an exhibit of love for Him. Something I have learned over the years is that following Christ is a far more mysterious and dangerous project than we typically assume.

With this in mind I see six possible characteristics or touchstones of the Church that seem to speak to me and offer guidance. They are: Liturgy, Theology, History, Unity, Authority, and Mystery. This list began with a couple of good friends who say “history, mystery, authority” is their elevator pitch as it were of why they converted to the Catholic Church. I have added liturgy, theology, and unity to that list because I find they must also be there for me. What I think about these things, and what I discover in light of these touchstones, perhaps will guide me.

Note: Faith, love, hope, righteousness, goodness, holiness, virtue, etc., are not listed below because, though they are also touchstones of the visible body of Christ, they are primarily of the individual. They are, as it were, assumed in the list below. I also have not included the sacraments as a touchstone, though they should also be assumed. Perhaps the sacraments are really just a part of each touchstone below.

The six touchstones:

Liturgy is made for us and we for it. By liturgy we infuse into our souls the truths we claim. Liturgy fits with the classical education model as well (something important to me) for liturgy is about the ordering of the soul, the whole person. We learn by memorizing, by practice, by repetition, by meditation, and through application. The body, and not just the mind and emotions, must be involved in learning. But liturgy is also an act of unity. We practice our liturgy with others, in solidarity, in love. Liturgy can be simple or complex, old or new, though wisdom and experience might find a balance. To deny liturgy, or to denigrate liturgy, or to ignore liturgy is to turn from the true nature of man, which is to turn away from God the creator of man’s nature. Which church offers the best, most fitting combination of man’s nature with liturgy? Which church seeks an “ordering” of the whole being in its liturgy?

Theology is the pursuit of understanding God and promulgating that understanding in both orthodoxy and orthopraxy. We should all pursue an understanding of God, though most of us are not called to be Theologians in a formal sense. So, on the one hand theology can stand for a particular orientation towards God, and on the other hand, those beliefs and practices that flow from that orientation. Theology here can also stand for the dogmatic cosmos that each Christian group or church claims as truth. Which church offers the best dogmatic cosmos, the best harmony of doctrines, the best total theology, that explains our experience and makes sense of what we know, how we should live, and what it means to be the Body of Christ?

History is the knowledge of where we come from, but also the debts we owe to those who came before us. History is the rich tapestry of accumulated experiences mystically present in the simplest of actions. History is the substance of our commitments and obligations in the light of past and future saints and martyrs. History is the voice of monuments calling us to the true richness in the historical and ever present body of Christ. Which church best presents and preserves the substantial history of Christ’s mystical body?

Unity is the solidarity of believers regardless our natural tendencies towards disunity. Unity is the demand of love in light of Christ’s death and resurrection. Disunity is a result of hate and pride, the result of the fall, evidenced first in the blaming of Eve by Adam and then second in the murder of Abel by his brother Cain. Because of our fallen state disunity should come as no surprise to us. However, staunch, systematic, historical disunity may be a sign of the hardness of one’s heart, either as a  kind of self-righteousness cloaked in dogmatic arguments or as a kind of complacent inertia. Which church best represents the movements of unity, embracing the universality of faith (and the diverse experiences of faith) in light of a holistic dogmatic cosmos? Which church seems to offer unity rather than demanding disunity?

Authority is the servant. As Christ told his apostles, to be a leader one must be a servant, even by becoming the least of all. The purpose of authority in the Church is to do the will of the Head (Christ) by serving the Body (us). One does not gain authority by claiming it, but by being anointed. But why authority? We are sinners, we are dis-unifiers, we are hard-headed. We need to be held accountable by something or someone with more authority than ourselves. This is the way God designed the world and us in it. It is a part of human nature to need, and ultimately thrive within, the bounds of temporal authority outside ourselves. And we need that authority to be visible, present, conforming to our human needs. To think otherwise is vanity. Which church best offers the guidance and solidity of authority so necessary in light of our weaknesses, in light of our disunity, in light of our vanity? Which church is the better servant of our striving for holiness and the kingdom?

Mystery is the nature of being. The heart of sainthood is a mystery. God is a mystery. Though He has revealed Himself to us, He remains beyond our grasp. Be we, who are made in God’s image, also are mysteries. Worship, prayer, and love are mysteries. What Christ did on the cross, and what the Holy Spirit does in our hearts are also mysteries. We can know what has been revealed, and be confident in what we know, including God’s existence and goodness, in Christ being the Son of God, in the story of salvation God has been telling since the beginning of time, but we also bow before God because He is “I AM”, the One who is, the source of being, a mystery. What church embraces a pervasive desire to know God and yet fully embraces mystery? What church has both a rich intellectual tradition and is simultaneously filled with mystics? Which church most consistently cries out: “Be a saint”?

Now I am both blind and optimistic. I will deny things that are there and see things which are not. How I answer the questions above may be very different than how others do. I may romanticize one “version” of Christianity over another, while someone else will do the opposite. While we should always desire Truth, we must realize the answer is not that we attain (or believe we have attained) Truth, rather that God has us in His hands. We are saved by God’s grace not because we have attained Truth. Of course we must seek Truth, but love is greater. We cannot “bottle up” our Christianity, for to be a Christian is to be a “little Christ” as it were, and Christ is the Word, the Son of God, the light of the world, a man, a mystery. Christ cannot be bottled up. That is why, though God has us as only He can have us, we work out our salvation in fear and trembling. Thus I propose the six touchstones above both provisionally and tenuously.

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fasting?

Question: Why is it that in Protestantism fasting is not promoted much?

The following Six reasons to keep Meatless Fridays is from a Catholic blogger:

  1. The tradition of eating fish and not beast flesh (now beef, pork, poultry) goes back to Noah’s Ark where for the 40 day flood, they ate only fish and not beasts.
  2. The mystical institution of Friday penance is Luke 5:35 “The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them: then shall they fast in those days.” Christ was “taken away” from us on Friday and so we fast on “those days,” i.e. on Fridays. Every Sunday is a “little Easter,” which means that every Friday is a “little Good Friday.” If you’re going to party on Sunday, you need to do penance on Friday.
  3. The Friday abstinence from meat goes back to the Apostles. The first-century document Didache records that the earliest Christians observed fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays: “But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on the second and fifth day of the week. Rather, fast on the fourth day {Wednesday} and the Parasceve {Friday}.”
  4. Saint Thomas Aquinas says that abstaining from beast flesh and animal products inhibits your libido and reduces lust. See Summa theologiae II-II q. 147, a. 8 for more details!
  5. A pejorative slur for Catholics is “fisheater” or alternatively “mackerel snapper.” Wear these slurs as badges of honor. Eat fish on Fridays.
  6. Christ expects us to fast. In Matthew 6:17-8, Jesus says “But when you fast.” He does not say, “But if you fast.” So then, why not try to work in a penance related to food every week? If you don’t make it a habit, you’ll never do it. Friday penance is the time-honored practice. It’s hard and it will be inconvenient when you have to go with the cheese nachos instead of the hot-dog at the baseball game…but it’s worth it.

If you get discouraged, just think of Saint John the Baptist. He ate locusts!

Saint John the Baptist, pray for us.

Would it be a good thing for American Christians to make fasting a common part of their life?

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What a conqueror! Napoleon’s perspective on Jesus

I presented this essay/article in this year’s Classical Conversations practicum for discussion.

Hilarin Felder:

“Napoleon regarded this as precisely the most striking proof of the divinity of Jesus–namely, his power over men’s hearts. The once wellnigh all-powerful Corsican, in the solitude of his last days, called up before his imagination all the heroic figures and master minds of the world, and measured them by his own gigantic greatness. But all of them combined, and he himself as well, vanished like empty shadows before the person of Jesus Christ.”

Napoleon:

“What a conqueror!–a conqueror who controls humanity at will, and wins to himself not only one nation, but the whole human race. What a marvel! He attaches to himself the human soul with all its energies. And how? By a miracle which surpasses all others. He claims the love of men–that is to say, the most difficult thing in the world to obtain; that which the wisest of men cannot force from his truest friend, that which no father can compel from his children, no wife from her husband, no brother from his brother–the heart. He claims it ; he requires it absolutely and undividedly, and he obtains it instantly.

Alexander, Caesar, Hannibal, Louis XIV strove in vain to secure this. They conquered the world, yet they had not a single friend, or at all events, they have none any more. Christ speaks, however, and from that moment all generations belong to him; and they are joined to him much more closely than by any ties of blood and by a much more intimate, sacred and powerful communion. He kindles the flame of love which causes one’s self-love to die, and triumphs over every other love. Why should we not recognize in this miracle of love the eternal Word which created the world? The other founders of religions had not the least conception of this mystic love which forms the essence of Christianity.

I have filled multitudes with such passionate devotion that they went to death for me. But God forbid that I should compare the enthusiasm of my soldiers with Christian love. They are as unlike as their causes. In my case, my presence was always necessary, the electric effect of my glance, my voice, my words, to kindle fire in their hearts. And I certainly posses personally the secret of that magic power of taking by storm the sentiments of men; but I was not able to communicate that power to anyone. None of my generals ever learned it from me or found it out. Moreover, I myself do not possess the secret of perpetuating my name and a love for me in their hearts for ever, and to work miracles in them without material means.

Now that I languish here at St Helena, chained upon this rock, who fights, who conquers empires for me? Who still even thinks of me? Who interests himself for me in Europe? Who has remained true to me? That is the fate of all great men. It was the fate of Alexander and Caesar, as it is my own. We are forgotten, and the names of the mightiest conquerors and most illustrious emperors are soon only the subject of a schoolboy’s task. Our exploits come under the rod of a pedantic schoolmaster, who praises or condemns us as he likes.

What an abyss exists between my profound misery and the eternal reign of Christ, who is preached, loved, and worshipped, and live on throughout the entire world. Is this to die? Is it not rather to live eternally? The death of Christ! It is the death of a God.”

(Quoted in Hilarin Felder, Christ and the Critics, vol. 2, pp. 216-17)

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