Recently I stumbled across the brilliant philosopher Jean-Luc Marion. I have been reading some philosophy lately, and my focus has been mostly on phenomenology. I studied a bit of phenomenology in college, along with structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstructionism. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, I now find myself diving back into these areas of thought.

Jean-Luc Marion is particularly interesting to me, in part because he is an unapologetic Catholic. I recently posted a video in which he answers the question of why he remains Catholic. I love his answers. (I guess one could say he is, in fact, apologetic because he provides an apologia for his faith.)

Below are two of his lectures. Though he is a philosopher and, therefore, brings his deeper thinking to the topics at hand, I find these talks very accessible. His very French accent is quite thick, but one gets used to it. I have now listened to each a couple of times. They are excellent.

Archbishop Alexander K. Sample said: “May the traditional Mass flourish in the Church!”

I agree, and I pray every day both for the TLM to flourish and for the archbishop to continue his good work.

In this light, below is another good video from 2SPetrvs:

While watching this video I was thinking about the nature and function of parades. A lot of people like parades. In this video one see a pilgrimage can be a kind of parade. I have come to believe they have an important role to play in human society. There is something old-fashioned about parades. There is also something very human about them. To parade is to make a declaration. Perhaps more parishes should start parading in their cities.

This lecture is worth the entire two and half hours. And it is a packed two and a half hours. Every bishop should watch it. Every priest too. It is profound and filled with riches to ponder and meditate upon. It is also filled with many challenges. Share it with others. Discuss it.

I am not a conspiracy nut, nor am I a staunch traditionalist, nor am I prone to sectarianism or division, etc, etc, but…

Given the connection between the message of Fatima and the Mass, and given a number of connections and observations Mr. Rodríguez makes, it makes sense that the third secret of Fatima has not been fully revealed. It seems rather clear that the message is very likely a direct challenge to the spirit of Vatican II and the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Mass. And given that the third secret was to be revealed in 1960 and wasn’t, and also by that time the pope and other key individuals in the Church were intent on changing the Mass and bringing about a glorious revolution, no one in leadership (including popes St. John XXIII, B. Paul VI, John Paul I, St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis) has wanted to open that can of worms — whether to cancel the council, or redirect its purpose, or not promulgate a new rite of the Mass, or call all of it into question after the fact. Perhaps they would all feel (or have felt) like they would need to officially abandon the Novus Ordo Mass altogether and they just can’t handle admitting that Vatican II was not the work of the Holy Spirit but of man alone. If this is true, then certainly what we have seen in the Church over the past fifty years are the profound and terrible results of God’s judgement — the list of troubles is staggering. Of course, I cannot say all this is true for I know almost nothing about it, but I wonder, I really wonder. Certainly it is deeply sobering to consider. (And the only “arguments” against this that I’ve come across consists of eye rolling. Thin arguments indeed.)

I worry that a great many cardinals, bishops, priests, and perhaps some popes, from the last half century or more, will end up in Hell because of the destruction they have brought about.

What?!

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Am I way off? Is Mr. Rodríguez wrong? What am I missing?

Worshiping-the-Real-Presence

When I was a Protestant I didn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (I didn’t even know that was an option), and I also believed the Church very quickly became corrupted after the apostles died. That’s why I “knew” our Baptist church was Christian and Catholics were probably going to Hell — nearly two thousand years of corruption until we Baptists came along finally with the true faith of the apostles. In other words, the Eucharist (we called it communion because Eucharist was too “Catholic”) was only a symbol and, of course, any authentic Christian church had to look like the church of the first generation of Christians (whatever we imagined that to be) if it looked like anything at all. I now know this is a lot of foolish bunk, but still popular in many Protestant circles — although those circles seem to be getting smaller and smaller.

One important piece of evidence for a Church of continuity through the ages is the simple fact that a mere few years beyond the first apostles others made statements about the Eucharist that confirm the Catholic teaching, and those others, lo and behold, where connected directly with the apostles. In other words, the Catholic understand of the Eucharist came directly from the apostles, who got it directly from our Lord.

First some quotes. Consider also the names of the authors and the dates:

On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meeting until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: “In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations.” (Didache, c. 90)

For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s Word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the Word of prayer which comes from him, from which our flesh and blood are nourished by transformation, is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus. (St. Justin Martyr, c. 100)

They [Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. (St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 110)

[Christ] has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own Blood, from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own Body, from which he gives increase to our bodies. (St. Irenaeus of Lyons, c. 140)

The Word is everything to a child: both Father and Mother, both Instructor and Nurse. “Eat My Flesh,” He says, “and drink My Blood.” The Lord supplies us with these intimate nutrients. He delivers over His Flesh, and pours out His Blood; and nothing is lacking for the growth of His children. O incredible mystery! (St. Clement of Alexandria, c. 150)

Now consider this handy flowchart* I made:

Early Church Fathers.001

Notice the relationships, see the connections.

Now consider Christ’s words: “And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) Even Hell will not prevail.

It seems to me that the Church has always been a Church of sinners, of struggles, of setbacks, of divisions, but also of healing, reconciliation, and of saints. It has also been a Church of the Eucharist. To think the Church got off course as soon as the apostles died is truly silly. To think the Catholic concept of the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a made-up doctrine that came centuries later is also silly.

“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.” (Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman)


*FYI: if I redo this chart I would make the lines between Paul, Peter, and John dotted, or something other than solid lines.

An EWTN show called Extraordinary Faith did a couple of episodes on new church designs and old church restorations that reflect the traditional patrimony of the Catholic Church.

The information here is great, and shows something of the rebirth and growth in recognizing the timeless and appropriate architectural and artistic designs of those buildings we instantly recognize as churches. Consequently many parishes and religious groups are wanting such buildings again.

I love the level of exposure to these beautiful churches and those who build & restore them this shows brings. There is a great deal of skill and work involved in any traditional Catholic church building. I also love the passion exhibited here for the traditions of the Church.

[An aside: Of course, and as expected, in the “spirit of EWTN” the production quality is serious, thoughtful, and sometimes (unintentionally) humorously amateurish. I would love to see EWTN level up two or three notches with its productions. Perhaps something like Bishop Barron’s Catholicism series, which would be at least a place to start. I’m not just complaining. I used to be a professional television producer and director, so I know a few things about what it takes to make good television, and it’s mostly not a question of money. EWTN too often is caught somewhere between 1980’s professional television and community access television.]

This was a few years ago, but it’s very good. He brings a lot of wisdom with his perspective.

I’m sure most Catholics would find such a talk boring and fussy. But I love this kind of thing. I’m a nerd, I know, but I also find history, especially in terms of culture and ways of thinking, fascinating.

Note: I heard Fr.Goodwin was recently seriously ill, perhaps had a stroke, but is recovering(?). May God bless him and keep him well.

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There are a number of Church history timelines out there if you want to find them. They all support one argument or another. Of the ones I’ve found (via Google image searching) most seem designed to demonstrate how the more or less connected Eastern Orthodox churches are somehow, truly, the one, consistently intact, non-apostate church, by showing that both the Catholic Church and all the Protestant churches are apostate deviations from Eastern Orthodoxy. I don’t find these timelines or arguments very convincing (though I flirted with becoming Eastern Orthodox before entering the Catholic Church).

Very few timelines I’ve seen are about the histories of Protestant churches from a Protestant perspective for obvious reasons — pick any one and they don’t go back very far, and are rife with so many splits as to make one’s head spin. See this previous post for examples. Rampant disunity and proneness to division makes the Protestant churches visually impossible to establish their continuity with the Apostles (and opens the door to questions most Protestants would like to imagine don’t actually exist or are not important). Better to avoid that embarrassing visual altogether. Anyway, Protestants put their emphasis on other things.

Yet, we get clearly from scripture that Jesus, with His apostles, founded a Church; that that Church is both mystical and visible, is marked by unity, is full of sacraments, and Hell will not prevail against it. Thus we should expect to find a clear line through history that we can call the Church. Given that all human beings are sinners, and that the Church is made up of sinners, then we should also expect an imperfect Church, prone to struggles, run through with sin, and teaming with problems — perhaps even its own periodic “dark ages” and times of great distress. But we should also see the work of the Holy Spirit, working on the hearts of the Church’s members, guiding the Church through the struggles, chastising it, correcting it, disciplining it, but keeping the thread of continuity always visible. If we are willing to entertain such an idea, it doesn’t take long to discover the Catholic Church is the best choice for being that church. All others, except to some degree the Eastern Orthodox churches, pale in comparison.

But it’s not all that easy to find a timeline of Church history from a Catholic perspective. Perhaps that’s because Catholics don’t feel they need to create such a thing.

However, here’s a decent one showing the continuity of the Catholic Church as compared to various Protestant divisions:

Timeline of Catholic Church
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If the visual of this timeline means anything, then we see the Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists grouped on one side, and all the rest on the other — which implies more or less deviation from the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church — depending on which side one is on. Eastern Orthodox, Lutheran, Anglican, and Methodists — the diagram seems to say — are closer to the Catholic Church than those on the right. This is the traditional Catholic perspective, though it has changed in recent years as generally only Evangelicals, Baptists, and some Reformed maintained traditional moral positions (mainly on sexual, gender, and life issues) and the mainline churches have deviated substantially.

My own history began in one of those Baptist strands on the right. I knew nothing about anything of Church history, and especially Baptist history. If Blessed John Henry Newman is right, that to be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant, then it’s no wonder Protestants (especially of the radical reformation) don’t want to know anything about their church histories — it’s too much of a threat to their way of life. I got the impression that our church had sprung directly from the pages of scripture, which allowed us to blithely disregard most all of Christian history from the death of St. John to the present day. Nearly everything I heard about the history of the Church could have been boiled down to a handful of repeated (and easily refuted) tropes about the Reformation and “those Catholics,” accepted with knowing nods, and never questioned. That was my experience. Of course, we never asked any knowledgeable Catholics about anything.

Now we live at a time when questions of doctrine and dogma, Church history and practice, and the deep divisions among the faithful are shrugged off as being uninteresting. So much of Christian experience seems to reflect our broader societies values (beliefs are only personal and must remain so, faith is private, and choosing a church is more like choosing a new favorite restaurant) that people can’t see any purpose in asking if there is such a thing as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

While growing up Protestant, naturally I was told church history was unimportant — only Jesus and the Bible were important. But if the Church is the bride of Christ, then history matters — like your own history. You are a continuity of God’s grace in your life, and so is the Church. What is particularly troubling with this timeline is that it shows that Christians have been practicing separating (one could say divorcing) from each other for a very long time. As they say, practice makes perfect. What has this done to our souls? How has this spirit invaded our culture at all levels?

We read in John chapter 17, Jesus prayed:

“And now I am no more in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name, which thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.”

“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one…”

Did Christ intend that they, and we, actually be one — implying visible as well as mystical unity? Can we really, over the long term, have the mystical and not the visible? Can we be divided in practice, in doctrine, in life, and still be okay that somewhere, somehow, we’re all unified in Christ? Like the hardness of heart Christ speaks of when he discusses divorce, is the Church in time and space, in hearts and in actions, an example to the world of the hardness of ours hearts? I think so. This is a profound problem.

Chrism-Mass-in-Westminster-Cathedral-procession-at-the-beginning
Chrism Mass in Westminster Cathedral, procession at the beginning.

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I have come to believe that once one cares at all about the continuity of the Church down through the ages, it then becomes clear all arrows point to the Catholic Church as the one founded by Christ. For all of its problems, and its crazy history, it remains. If one cannot imagine becoming Catholic, then it’s best to forget everything about Church history, grab one’s Bible, and just claim Jesus as Lord. Right? To many this sounds like a good plan, but that very perspective is at the heart of that crazy timeline of disunity, with Christians splitting from each other, with every man a pope, creating havoc among the faithful, and shaming Christ before the world. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about the “me and Jesus” mindset as the foundation for being the Church. There is something profoundly broken and wrong-headed about betting on sola scriptura. The evidence is everywhere.

This timeline shows that Christians have grotesquely failed in unity. Given human nature, original sin, and the incessant work of the Devil, this is no surprise. I have written about this before, but I believe the spirit at the core of the Reformation was the spirit of disunity (shored up by theological arguments that sound a lot like excuses), and that spirit has thrived down the centuries until today, and has affected all of modern culture — we are a culture of divorce on all fronts (we are constantly separating ourselves from others, reveling in our disunity, fighting against those “idiots,” and finding ever new ways to stay apart). But Christians should know that in and through Christ all those distinctions fade, and our human excuses disappear. Non-denominationalism (not caring about denominations any more) has not solved this issue. Evangelicalism has not solved the issue — though it embodies some good things. Cool churches in school gyms have not solved the issue. Gathering “outside” mainstream Christian culture in some small, radical biblicism enclave has not solved the issue. Social media, and our ability to be “connected,” has not solved this issue. Unity in Christ is hard enough, why then seek it and flaunt it?

Because I know that at the individual level there are many, many Christians who passionately love Christ, I have hope for a coming unity once again. That unity will, and must, be both of the heart and visible; of faith and structure; of the mystical Church and the church down the street. May we humbly follow Christ and be “one” again.


Post Script: Most Christians, as far as I can tell, could not care less about these things. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. There is a happy cluelessness, a shrug and a “who cares?” or “I don’t see how that matters” attitude. I care, in part, because I was Protestant and converted to Catholicism. I had to wrestle with a lot of issues and claims raised by both “sides.” I was drawn by the Holy Spirit to wrestle with these things. I learned that history matters. It can teach us a lot. We each hold many assumptions and presuppositions, and those all have a history to them. I believe these are critical issues because I believe that truth matters, scripture matters, and what & who one has faith in matters. I don’t want to hold dear verses like John 3:16 …reveling in the love of God and feeling great, and forget that the Church, which was established by Christ, is also the body of Christ and the bride of Christ — something visible, living, breathing, acting, unified, in the world, reflecting Christ, and connected year over year through tradition, scripture, and structure. We believe in Christ by being a part of His Body. Belief is not about feelings only, or even mostly. One has to choose.

I have to care, make wise judgements, and then choose. I cannot not care. I cannot not choose.

Here is my attempt to find some clarity on the relationships between the early Church Fathers, and how they connect back to Christ. I welcome feedback.

Early Church Fathers.001

There are some who want to believe that once the last Apostle died the church quickly went off the rails, fell into a kind of darkness, and did not begin to emerge again until the Reformation. This is silly bunk, and those who believe it tend to need it to be true so they can justify their own positions. This diagram points towards a more accurate, and “hermeneutic of continuity” understanding that sees the development of doctrine occurring right from the beginning as the Apostles handed down the Tradition of the Church to the next generation, which then did so for the next. That is one reason why, when curious Protestants go looking for their kind/style of church in the early years of Christianity, before the Catholic Church took over and ruined everything, they find the early Church was very Catholic. This is not proof that Catholicism is right and Protestantism is wrong, but merely points to the fact that the Church has always been Catholic.

Here are a couple of lectures from art historian Elizabeth Lev.

Unfortunately, so many art lecture videos online are not well produced. In this case the content is very good, but the audio is only passable, and the images of artworks are poor on the video. I would love to see more videos made with an understanding and care that they will live on for years online — especially when it comes to discussing art and architecture. But I love the historical perspective Lev brings to the study of art. Art history has not always existed, nor did it arise within a vacuum — and it has had a profound influence on the Church.

Here is a better reproduction of the final artwork she discusses:

bernini-ecstasy-of-st-theresa-1
Ecstasy of Saint Teresa (1647–52) by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, in Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

There’s so much more than can and should be said, but these videos can function as kinds of introductions. I don’t know yet what I think of Lev; she seems to know her stuff (though these are not in-depth lectures), she lives in Rome, she has a story.

It is important that we Christians think about art. And I mean really think about it. We should be familiar with what art is today, what it was in the past, how it has functioned in society and history, and what it has meant to the Church. It is interesting just how important art has been within the history of Christianity, and just how trivial it has become today. I believe this has something to do with a turning away from God while still hanging on to religion. This is true for both Protestants and Catholics. Somehow I find it more sad in reference to Catholics. Fortunately, and as I perceive it, there are a number of very good Christian artists today (I don’t really like that term), a growing interest in the arts and in sacred architecture, and an increasingly impassioned younger generation becoming uninterested in the reasons (whatever they were — some kind of 1960’s iconoclasm I suppose) that led previous generations to jettison great and holy art in the 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.

JP2

Confirmation Perfects Baptismal Grace
by Pope John Paul II

[Confirmation, as the completion of Baptism, was the subject of the Holy Father’s talk at the General Audience of September 30, 1998; a continuation of catechesis on the Holy Spirit.]

1. In this second year of preparation for the Jubilee of the Year 2000, a renewed appreciation of the Holy Spirit’s presence focuses our attention especially on the sacrament of Confirmation (cf. Tertio millennio adveniente, n. 45). As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “it perfects baptismal grace; it … gives the Holy Spirit in order to root us more deeply in the divine filiation, incorporate us more firmly into Christ, strengthen our bond with the Church, associate us more closely with her mission, and help us bear witness to the Christian faith in words accompanied by deeds” (n. 1316).

In fact, the sacrament of Confirmation closely associates the Christian with the anointing of Christ, whom “God anointed with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 10: 38). This anointing is recalled in the very name “Christian”, which derives from that of “Christ”, the Greek translation of the Hebrew term “messiah”, whose precise meaning is “anointed”. Christ is the Messiah, the Anointed One of God.

Through the seal of the Spirit conferred by Confirmation, the Christian attains his full identity and becomes aware of his mission in the Church and the world. “Before this grace had been conferred on you”, St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “you were not sufficiently worthy of this name, but were on the way to becoming Christians” (Cat. Myst., III, 4: PG 33, 1092).

Sacrament of Confirmation perpetuates Pentecost
2. To understand all the riches of grace contained in the sacrament of Confirmation, which forms an organic whole with Baptism and the Eucharist as the “sacraments of Christian initiation”, it is necessary to grasp its meaning in the light of salvation history.

In the Old Testament, the prophets proclaimed that the Spirit of God would rest upon the promised Messiah (cf. Is 11: 2) and, at the same time, would be communicated to all the messianic people (cf. Ez 36: 25-27; Jl 3: 1-2). In the “fullness of time” Jesus was conceived in the Virgin Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Lk 1: 35). With the Spirit’s descent upon him at the time of his baptism in the River Jordan, he is revealed as the promised Messiah, the Son of God (cf. Mt 3: 13-17; Jn 1: 33-34). All his life was spent in total communion with the Holy Spirit, whom he gives “not by measure” (Jn 3: 34) as the eschatological fulfilment of his mission, as he had promised (cf. Lk 12: 12; Jn 3: 5-8; 7: 37-39; 16: 7-15; Acts 1: 8). Jesus communicates the Spirit by “breathing” on the Apostles the day of the Resurrection (cf. Jn 20: 22) and later by the solemn, amazing outpouring on the day of Pentecost (cf. Acts 2: 1-4).

Thus the Apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, begin to “proclaim the mighty works of God” (cf. Acts 2: 11). Those who believe in their preaching and are baptized also receive “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 38).

The distinction between Confirmation and Baptism is clearly suggested in the Acts of the Apostles when Samaria is being evangelized. It is Philip, one of the seven deacons, who preaches the faith and baptizes. Then the Apostles Peter and John arrive and lay their hands on the newly baptized so that they will receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8: 5-17). Similarly in Ephesus, the Apostle Paul lays his hands on a group of newly baptized and “the Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19: 6).

3. The sacrament of Confirmation “in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church” (CCC, n. 1288). Baptism, which the Christian tradition calls “the gateway to life in the Spirit” (ibid., n. 1213), gives us a rebirth “of water and the Spirit” (cf. Jn 3: 5), enabling us to share sacramentally in Christ’s Death and Resurrection (cf. Rom 6: 1-11). Confirmation, in turn, makes us share fully in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit by the risen Lord.

The unbreakable bond between the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is expressed in the close connection between the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation. This close bond can also be seen in the fact that in the early centuries Confirmation generally comprised “one single celebration with Baptism, forming with it a “double sacrament’, according to the expression of St Cyprian” (CCC, n. 1290). This practice has been preserved to the present day in the East, while in the West, for many reasons, Confirmation came to be celebrated later and there is normally an interval between the two sacraments.

Since apostolic times the full communication of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the baptized has been effectively signified by the laying on of hands. An anointing with perfumed oil, called “chrism”, was added very early, the better to express the gift of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, through Confirmation Christians, consecrated by the anointing in Baptism, share in the fullness of the Spirit with whom Jesus is filled, so that their whole life will spread the “aroma of Christ” (2 Cor 2: 15).

Differences in Confirmation rite express its rich meaning
4. The differences in the rite of Confirmation which evolved down the centuries in the East and West, according to the different spiritual sensitivities of the two traditions and in response to various pastoral needs, express the richness of the sacrament and its full meaning in Christian life.

In the East, this sacrament is called “Chrismation”, anointing with “chrism” or “myron”. In the West, the term Confirmation suggests the ratification of Baptism as a strengthening of grace through the seal of the Holy Spirit. In the East, since the two sacraments are joined, Chrismation is conferred by the same priest who administers Baptism, although he performs the anointing with chrism consecrated by the Bishop (cf. CCC, n. 1312). In the Latin rite, the ordinary minister of Confirmation is the Bishop, who, for grave reasons, may grant this faculty to priests delegated to administer it (cf. ibid., n. 1313).

Thus, “the practice of the Eastern Churches gives greater emphasis to the unity of Christian initiation. That of the Latin Church more clearly expresses the communion of the new Christian with the Bishop as guarantor and servant of the unity, catholicity and apostolicity of his Church, and hence the connection with the apostolic origins of Christ’s Church” (CCC, n. 1292).

5. From what we have said not only can we see the importance of Confirmation as an organic part of the sacraments of Christian initiation as a whole, but also its irreplaceable effectiveness for the full maturation of Christian life. A decisive task of pastoral ministry, to be intensified as part of the preparation for the Jubilee, consists in very carefully training the baptized who are preparing to receive Confirmation, and in introducing them to the fascinating depths of the mystery it signifies and brings about. At the same time, confirmands must be helped to rediscover with joyful wonder the saving power of this gift of the Holy Spirit.

© L’Osservatore Romano, Editorial and Management Offices, Via del Pellegrino, 00120, Vatican City

the-supper-at-emmaus-1648
Supper at Emmaus. Oil, 65 x 68 cm
by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1648
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

[Note: Perhaps the title of this post should instead read: “Along with Bible and Burning Hearts…” I didn’t intend to use the word “beyond” to mean getting past, leaving behind, or disregarding. But using “beyond” keeps both the alliteration and hint of provocation to catch your attention.]

Consider this wonderful story in Luke 24:13-35 (RSV):

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him.

And he said to them, “What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?”

And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

They are lost and without hope. They do not understand that Christ had to suffer and die, and that he would then rise again. They do not recognize the Christ though he stands before them. The irony of their question is almost humorous. Nobody knows of the things which “happened there in these days” better than the man they do not recognize.

And he said to them, “What things?”

Jesus does not begin by telling them, but by asking them. He draws out their thoughts. He helps them consider the events that happened so that they might be prepared to believe all that the prophets have spoken.

And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.

Oh to have been present at that explanation! And yet, even though Jesus explains everything, and even though he gives them the right way to interpret the scriptures that foretold those events which troubled them so deeply, they still do not comprehend, and they still do not recognize Jesus, they still cannot see the Christ standing right before them.

So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, “Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.”

They invite Jesus to stay. Was he actually going further, or just giving them an opportunity to be drawn in to something more personal, an opportunity to ask him to stay, thus preparing them for what was to come? To invite a person to stay is to commit oneself to that person at some important level. They were beginning to move beyond proofs from scripture to a covenant relationship of personal commitment. But they did not know what they were getting themselves into. And they were still lost.

So he went in to stay with them. When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight.

It is only when Jesus breaks the bread do they finally recognize him. What does this mean? What does this imply? What if they had not asked him to stay?

They said to each other, “Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?”

While they had heard Jesus teach them their hearts burned within them. They loved what he was saying. They longed for the truth. It seems that they too loved the scriptures. Perhaps they even understood all that he taught, but they could not see the Christ standing before them until they got off the road, sat at table with him, and the bread was broken. Only in the breaking of the bread were their eyes opened. Their hearts had burned but they could not see until the bread was broken. When they had the scriptures and burning hearts they were still lost. Perhaps it takes more than knowledge of scriptures and burning hearts to see Christ. Perhaps we should be cautious in trusting our interpretations and our emotions when salvation is at stake. If the bread had not been broken they might still be lost. If they had not asked him to stay he could not have broken the bread.

And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

They make the connection: He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

I believe my first exposure to Catholicism was from the film The Sound of Music. Remember the scene towards the end of the film when the von Trapp family was hiding from the Nazis in the convent, and the two Nuns then tell their Mother Abbess that they have sinned:

SISTER MARGARETTA:
Reverend Mother, I have sinned.

SISTER BERTHE:
I, too, Reverend Mother.

MOTHER ABBESS:
What is this sin, my children?

nuns

And remember how they then revealed the engine parts which they had dismantled from the Nazis’ cars, thus making it impossible for the Nazis to start their cars, which then allowed the von Trapp family to escape. That scene has always given me pleasant chills. Well, I didn’t really know a thing about Catholics then. I probably didn’t even really know those nuns were Catholics as I would now; I was a good Baptist and therefore rather ignorant of Christian and European history, but those nuns have always been heroes to me. Perhaps that scene planted something in my subconscious.

What that film does not say is that those nuns would likely have become martyrs for their actions like so many other devout Christians during the war—but that would have been too dark for such an uplifting story.


An apologia of sorts

What follows is the description of a spiritual and intellectual journey I’ve been on for a while, and am still on, though I won’t go all the way back to my childhood (including the fact that I was born in a Catholic hospital). And like the journey itself, my words may ramble and wander. I also recognize this is mostly self-serving, in that I want to sort out my own thinking in my typical, self-absorbed way. However, I hope that what I have experienced may help anyone else on a similar journey. I am also going to offer some personal critiques of Protestantism and some of the ideas common to the Christian communities in which I’ve been my whole life, and am still, more or less. Keep in mind I want to address how my own thinking has shifted and altered, not criticize people whom I love, and who I know love God and are seeking the Truth. What I believe now may change in the future. I am seeking the Truth, but my sinful heart and intellectual limitations usually overwhelm me. And really, none of us can know the hearts of others as God does, and all of our fates are in God’s hands. He will do what He wills, and He is trustworthy.

And certainly I might be wrong in my critiques and conclusions.

Surprised by the “dark side”

About seven years ago I began looking at Catholicism. “At” is the right word, for I did not and have not entered the Catholic church.  I was and am still on the outside looking in—or I could say: I am on one side of the river Tiber and the Church is on the other, but I am at the bank’s edge, dipping my toes in the flowing current. At that time I was  shocked, elated, curious—in fact, my emotions were hard to describe.

I had been brought up in an anti-Catholic version of Christianity (not emotionally,  rabidly, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-Catholic, but staunchly, knee-jerk anti-Catholic, i.e. Baptist), such that even getting near something “Catholic” brought about weird and uncomfortable feelings—it’s not unlike being trained to view alcohol as from the Devil and then going to a party where folks are drinking and having a good time (simultaneous shivers and fascination). I have to say, as far as I know, I never knew anyone who was Catholic or had been Catholic until much later in my life. And I couldn’t tell you where a Catholic church was in our city. I only knew Catholics were the worst possible sinners and idolaters because I had been told they were (and that they worshiped Mary, took orders from the Pope, can’t think for themselves, don’t read the Bible, etc., etc.). Old-school Baptists love their anti-Catholicism and their piety, that’s for sure. “Thank you God we are not like those Catholics.” (wink, wink)

Fortunately I know times have changed and many Baptists are quite a bit more ecumenical today than in the past, but this is not a natural outgrowth of Baptist teaching or culture. Perhaps this change is merely indicative of the waning interest of the larger culture in maintaining denominationalism as we become increasingly consumeristic in our faith and worship choices (or, I should say, in our market-driven church offerings). Churches can sometimes be more like brands than indicators of particular dogmas. And perhaps much of modern ecumenism has more to do with being influenced by popular ideas like, “I love Jesus and hate religion,” which has its own theological and Christological troubles.

Keep in mind that presuppositions run deep in all of us. We carry within us a myriad of unspoken and unexamined beliefs and ideas. To say they are “taken for granted” only hints at how embedded and profoundly ingrained they are within the recesses of our minds and souls. Religion is a great place for presuppositions to reign supreme. Nothing seemed more obvious to me than that Catholicism was wrong. Nothing seemed more obvious to me than that the basic Protestant worldview was true. And not just at the propositional level, but at the soul level. Deep within me I knew what was what. I am beginning to see just how profoundly ignorant I was, and perhaps still am.

But I can see now that I was driven to explore a richer, deeper, historical, visible Church in the wake of my second child dying in my arms. That was seven years ago, and it was a hard time. Words can’t really describe that kind of experience. Presuppositions can both triumph and struggle in the face of reality. Many friends rallied around us. We were deeply blessed. I was also having conversations with a Catholic co-worker and friend about God and faith and suffering. She was dealing with the impending and eventual death of her dearly beloved sister. The answers I heard from my Catholic friend showed me something of the profound depth of ordinary Catholic thinking about suffering and God’s sovereignty. The Catholic Church began to look less wrong and more right than I had presupposed. Or, at least, it began to look like a perfectly plausible choice for a faithful and thoughtful Christian. I was surprised. Perhaps I was also just tired of being a Protestant who had discovered there was no longer anything worth protesting—or if there was, it was more the Protestant culture and doctrines that needed to be protested. The old arguments were failing me.

So I explored. I decided to give Catholicism the kind of honest examination that I, and really every Protestant I ever knew, was never previously willing to give. According to Chesterton this is a truly fateful step for any Protestant to take, there is no half way, but I didn’t know that.

A Mysterious Call

Why Catholicism? Why toy with the “dark side”? I can’t really say. I do remember that when Pope John Paul II died I was strangely transfixed and emotional.  My reaction caught me off guard.  I realized that I had always deeply admired him without making the connection to his being the pope—strange as that is. I just saw him as the primary Christian of sorts. I was glued to the television, watched hours of coverage of those thousands upon thousands of people flooding into Saint Peter’s Square. It was overwhelming both emotionally and intellectually. I was then transfixed by the choosing of the new pope, Benedict XVI. I was so excited when a new pope was finally selected. Again, I was caught off guard. Why the emotional response I wondered.

There is an interesting phenomenon that can happen when one has been trained to view something as taboo (e.g. the Catholic Church), then comes into contact with the truth and realizes that that “training” was more an indoctrination into a web of prejudices and “self-evident” presuppositions.  When one’s eyes open there can be a feeling of excitement and something like joy and fear mingled into wonder. There can also be, for some, a sense of betrayal. Fortunately, I’ve never had hard feelings for my anti-Catholic training. It is just a part of the world I was in, and like all traditions it merely got passed on from one generation to the next.

What I discovered when beginning to scratch the surface of Catholicism was surprisingly profound theology, good and trustworthy people, rich history, true mystery, and a copiousness that made the Christianity of my upbringing, as well as the Christianity of the quasi-reformed, non-denominational “church” I had then been attending, look truncated and anemic. This is true even in light of Protestantism’s deep (though, I must say, frequently myopic) biblical scholarship and wonderfully great people. The people, it must be said, are never truncated and anemic, though their rich lives may not be fully matched by the Christian “church” culture of which they partake. And this really is an issue: Does the Christianity with which we engage, and to which we commit ourselves, fit with our needs, our souls, our nature? Are our churches truly and properly human?

Hearing the Music

Naturally we compare. Perhaps the best way I can describe how Catholicism compares to Protestantism is that Catholicism (and I’m still looking from the outside, so I could be imagining things) seems to sing to my soul in a way that Protestantism does not. This singing is not a little thing; it is not some lightweight thing over against weighty theology. No, in this sense singing is more like how Tolkien in his Silmarillion describes Eru creating Middle Earth. In this sense theology trails after the singing, is subservient to it. We are called to the completeness of Truth, yes, but we are called even more so to holiness and worship. We are called to knowledge and to know what it truly means to call Jesus the Messiah, but we are also called, regardless of our imperfect understanding, to love and the Eucharist. And I say this after having sat under the wise teaching of some of the best Protestant bible students and teachers I’ve ever known, or will ever know.

Do any of us want to be part of a religious tradition that does not sing to our souls? My prejudices had me believe Catholicism could never sing to my soul or, if it did, I was probably damned. But I have come to realize that I never knew the real Church, and neither did those who taught me those prejudices. My confidence had been built up by theological arguments, many of which I now know are either questionable or more nuanced than I realized. But my eyes were beginning to open, and so were the “ears” of my soul.

But what about theology? We should not view doing theology (or even Bible study) as the primary activity of the Christian. Perhaps this is a poor analogy, but think of doing theology more like the art critic trying to explain the experience of art works—what they mean, what they do to us, why we like or need them, what the artist’s intent was, etc. God is the artist. What He creates can be known, but more importantly, is wonderful. What is most important for the Christian may not be understanding but bowing the knee and doing God’s will. Seek understanding, yes, but worship always. There are many Bible teachers who would do well to set down their Bibles and fall on their knees before God. Theologians (and especially apologists) might have heart palpitations at the thought, but we are not saved because we have the right beliefs or the right theology (though we ought to seek those things as well); rather because we love God and the things of God. Theology cannot stand aloof, it must begin with love.

Therefore, I had to come to terms with the Church that God established and nourished through scripture and tradition if I was to love the things of God. I needed to love the Church, the body and bride of Christ. I needed to own up to the obvious evidence of scripture and historical fact rather than always looking for a hidden meaning somewhere. I realized that to turn away from the historical, liturgical, hierarchical, sacramental, mysterious Church was to turn away from Christ Himself (no matter the emotions I attached to my “love” for Christ). And if I was to turn away merely because my personality gravitated more toward the non-historical, non-liturgical, non-hierarchical, non-sacramental, non-mysterious, then was that not more an indictment of my heart and its tendency to use cheap excuses to avoid bowing my knee to God?

But was the Church I was looking for the one I had assumed could never be the Church? Was I going to have to sort out my presuppositions about Catholicism? Is the Catholic church, in a manner of speaking, one of the things of God? Was Saint Cyprian right when he said a person cannot have God as Father who does not have the Church as Mother?

Anti-Authority Consumers

Perhaps another way to describe a big difference between the popular Protestantism with which I am familiar and Catholicism, is that it seems much of Protestantism is a kind of consumerism Christianity that succeeds in large part because of good marketing and solid business plans, and Catholicism feels like the exact opposite, even painfully so. When I say consumer Christianity, I don’t just mean that some churches have a Starbucks in the lobby, or a designer jeans wearing-goatee sporting-no pulpit using pastor; I mean a kind of Christianity that views church goers and potential church goers through the lens of a business marketing paradigm, catering to shifting trends in market “needs” and fashions; and where those church goers, happy to play along, select which church they want now based on what they want now, in much the same way that people pick their next favorite restaurant. A lot of good people can get together and participate in a heartfelt manner in the business of Christianity, even believing they’re doing it for the sake of their families, but that doesn’t make it right. And it certainly doesn’t make that church the Church. And even a non-popular kind of church can be a consumer choice, a kind of alt-church, that is based on eschewing what is popular—because for a niche market that is the popular choice—and even priding itself on doing so.

Or a group of non-conformist Christians, who seek to avoid any hint of the consumerism of popular Christianity, can get together to hear a well-preached sermon from the original languages, strip away all “pretense” of liturgy, strip away the sacraments, strip away everything except the barest minimum of organization, and yet that’s still not the same as partaking of Christ’s body in unity—no matter how wonderful the sermon. In fact, to do so (and this is a strong statement) is to worship disunity. A bible-centered, non-conformist Protestant community still has not solved the question of authority (hermeneutical theories only go so far). Authority is required for unity. God made us and the Church according to that need. That is our need. The fact that we can sorely abuse authority does not make it less a creation of God. We must eventually come to see that neither hipster evangelicals nor non-conformist children of the Jesus Movement can overcome human nature merely by declaring an anti-authoritarian stance in the name of Truth. In the end it rings hollow.

Inevitably Protestantism becomes such that each church (or each Bible teacher) makes its case, its argument, for what it believes, and much of the time each church is headed by its own “father”, its own localized version of the “pope”, having been granted a similar kind of authority by a local congregation that continually fluctuates as members come and go. So much for being anti-papist. Protestantism has not solved the issue of authority merely because it put a pope in every pulpit or a Bible in every hand. As John Saward wrote: “The man who would wrench the Scriptures from the hands of the Bride, in the belief that he will thereby become more ‘objective’ in his reading, traps them and himself beneath the black bushel of subjective opinion.” (The Beauty of Holiness, p. 39) The Bride here, or course, is the historical Church.

I know there are many who would argue against my position. They are convinced my perspective is lacking and easily dismantled. They have thought deep and developed their hermeneutic approach, their interpretive strategies. But I have heard the arguments, and though they may convince others, they no longer convince me. This does not make me right—I might be wrong—but to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Thus, for now, here I stand.

And still… if anyone would seek to study the Bible with integrity, preferably in the original languages, looking for Truth and seeking wisdom, and then desiring to share their conclusions, God be praised. I will champion that person.

So I dove into examining Catholicism, though as I said, entirely from the outside. I was too fearful to actually visit a Catholic church or talk to a priest. I read many books, listened to numerous podcasts, and read a lot of stuff on the Internet. One thing I did do that surprised me was I began praying the Rosary. (*gasp*) I found in my heart a longing to become Catholic, and I frequently prayed that God would make it possible for me to become Catholic. But I couldn’t on my own. I still had too many reservations (perhaps ghosts of anti-Catholicism), and I certainly did not want to make that kind of choice without my family alongside—I just can’t take that step without my wife beside me—and this was, at that point, a very personal, internal, and individual journey for me. So I put it all on the back burner.

Other Stages: Emergent, Anabaptist, Orthodox

My interests shifted. I began to explore the emergent church. I liked a lot of what they were saying, and I still like the exploratory emphasis of their project, especially their emphasis on the need for open dialogue. But I found the emergent church to exist as a kind of declaration of need rather than of a solution. It seems to me that the emergent church exists for people, at least for some, who are longing for the historical/mystical church but have yet to find it because they think it is hidden rather than in plain sight. Or perhaps the emergent church essentially exists as nothing more than an expression of existential story-telling meets religious mystery meets anything-you-want-to-eat spiritual buffet. So I moved on.

Keep in mind that my wife and I were frequently discussing what we needed to do with our family regarding church. We knew we needed something for our family to “plug into”, though I hate that term. We were not entirely sure what we were looking for, but we knew we didn’t want a programmatic kind of church that splits family members up by marketing differentiators. We wanted to be a family all together, worshiping together. We also knew that programmatic churches easily fall prey to worldly definitions of success, even while raising their hands in praise. Too much of Protestantism is popular American culture justified with Bible verses.

For whatever reason I was then led to a more Anabaptist/pacifist/anarchist kind of Christianity (a la John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, et al). Perhaps this came about because of my growing dislike of U.S foreign policy and it’s “war on terror.” I found the emphasis on the non-violence of Christ good for my soul—especially as an antidote to the violence-loving American culture in which I live. And I still lean towards pacifism, my politics becoming influenced by the way of the cross. Gradually I became even less interested in Catholicism, in part because I thought I saw a clear connection between the Catholic church and all that is bad about empire. I knew nothing of the great serving and pacifist traditions within Catholicism. I also had feelings that becoming Catholic might never be a possibility for me, given my personal and social situation. I started wondering if there were any good Anabaptist/Mennonite churches in my area. Clearly I was searching for something. But still, I couldn’t step beyond my reading about these things and actually taking the step of walking through the doors into one of these communities. I am very much a book learner and a wannabe lurker. It takes me a long time to make up my mind, especially about big things.

As an aside, I am perplexed by people who seem to not have issues with doctrinal wrangling or denominational allegiances—and I don’t mean obsessively so, just ordinary concern. I am not a theology wonk, I don’t study theology like I should, but it’s still a big deal for me to make a shift from a particular set of ideas to another. My world is easily rocked by basic theological “discoveries” and possibilities of fundamental change. I don’t take it lightly. I can’t change churches without it being a big deal personally. And I am constantly asking questions about who I am and why I believe what I do—constantly. Perhaps it’s a blessing, perhaps it’s a curse. At any rate, I move very slowly.

And then, for some reason, I discovered Eastern Orthodoxy. I cannot remember how, but once I learned of the Orthodox church I was fascinated and increasingly amazed. Where had this church been all my life? What richness and beauty. Again I began studying in earnest. My studying led me to write a number of blog posts, and eventually I visited a local Orthodox church. I have to say this re-grounded me in my interest in the historical church. Whereas before I might have been a bit more loosey-goosey about theology, doctrine, and worship, etc., I began to become more interested in the early church, its theology, doctrine, practices, and worship. I began to embrace a more Orthodox understanding of Christianity. I came to believe the Sola Scriptura I had trusted was, ironically, un-biblical. (I say “believe” because I cannot say definitively one way or the other.) And Sola fide rang untrue in light of the apostle’s teaching. Plus, through my study of classical education (another area of interest for me) I began to realize that God made human beings for liturgy, and that God gave us liturgy as a gift that fits with our humanness. The fact that we mess up our liturgies does not negate their inherent virtues.

Fitting the Nature

There is a profound fittingness between human nature and sacred liturgy that would be sinful to separate; we can argue about the structure of liturgy, its design and style, but liturgy itself is required. And, since there is a fittingness, our arguments are likely to be circumscribed anyhow—consider if two thousand years of practice, discussion, and tweaking count for something. Consequently, I came to the conviction that the non-liturgical anti-sacramental church I had been attending was practicing an essentially non-biblical anthropology in its “church” practice. This was key. I realized that a non-liturgical emphasis is an impulse away from God because it is an impulse away from man as God created him—even though a non-liturgical experience may feel like a more “pure” and unencumbered version of Christianity. This is the potential trap of seeking authenticity. What we “know” as authentic is too often just the preferences we inherit from our culture. I felt I could no longer live out a stripped-down, bare minimum version of Christianity; not only because I didn’t need to prove it could be done, but also because it is false.

Of course I can only look at myself and examine my own heart. Each of us are on a unique path, uniquely called by the Holy Spirit, uniquely held in the hands of God. We can only follow our conscience the best we know how. Who am I to judge? Who am I to presume? Who really?

There were more concerns. I realized that the Orthodox church appealed to me because it would give me much of what I had been seeking and still allow me to be “Protestant”. Orthodoxy allows me to avoid questions of popery and Mary and transubstantiation, the primacy of Peter, and more. And, perhaps most of all, I could avoid the stigma of being Catholic. It just seemed like it would be less embarrassing to say “I’m Orthodox.” Plus it would mostly leave people perplexed, which I though would be fun. “Orthodox? Huh?” But I realized I still needed to address these issues and sort them through. In short, there is only one Church on earth that one must take a definitive stance on regardless of whether one is Orthodox, Protestant, or other, and that is the Catholic Church. I had to come to terms finally with the Catholic Church.

Authority (and the Soul’s Destiny?)

A big issue for a Protestant is the question of authority. Without going into much depth, I realized two things:

  1. Deep in my soul I was longing for authority, not because I was weak (though I am), but because I was tired of the false security of Sola Scriptura. I needed more than a hermeneutic, more than an epistemology, more than an interpretive strategy; I need the Holy Spirit poured out through history in the form and structure of His authoritative and living Church.
  2. That my refusal to believe in an Apostolic and visible church instituted by Christ, maintained by the Holy Spirit, and carried forward through apostolic succession was a refusal to bow the knee to God. Prides gets us all, and it got me.

It seems clearer to me now that an apparently reasoned argument against apostolic succession and the primacy of Peter may, in fact, be an attempt to avoid softening one’s heart to the true reality of Christ’s Church, even if one’s arguments are fervently preached. Bible study can be as much about weaving arguments to avoid the truth as it is a pursuit of the truth. We all tend to live in our own little corners of the world, often never realizing that our pride has got us cornered. I had convinced myself that Sola Scriptura got me off the hook, as it were; I did not need to be bothered by Catholicism (or any Christian tradition). But I came to see that this was merely an excuse to build my own personal castle against the world—but this is foolishness, vanity, and pride.

I can only speak for myself. I do not know the hearts of others. We are in God’s hands.

The question of authority may be a litmus test for the hardness of one’s heart. I see that it was for me. For this reason I cannot embrace Protestantism, and I have come to believe the Orthodox church, though maintaining apostolic succession, is still on the wrong side of the issue of authority.

Pushed and Pulled

All this led me back to studying Catholicism with renewed vigor. And this is where I am today. But I must say that my movement towards the Catholic Church is more from being pushed in that direction by Protestantism and it failings than being pulled by Catholicism. Though the Catholic Church seems to be, as they say, the fullness of the Church, I am not swooning over it. I am not church shopping, looking for the next new (or old) thing, the coolest, hippest, most authentic thing, or just something really different. I just want Christ. I want to follow Him, to be a part of His body, to be holy. I think I see that in the Catholic Church unlike anywhere else. Tell me if I am wrong, but it seems clearer now that to be the best “Protestant Christian” I can be is to finally become a Catholic Christian. True?

But I am being pulled as well. I find Catholic doctrine more compelling than both Eastern Orthodox and Protestant. I still have many questions, and am still sorting through much, but I am finding it is not the richness of history or the liturgy so much that draws me to Catholicism, rather it is its doctrine, including its teaching on apostolic succession, on the primacy of Peter, on the role of Mary (I am coming to really love Mary), on Purgatory, on the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the effectiveness of the sacraments, and much more. In fact, I can say that what attracts me now to the Catholic Church are precisely those things which are the traditional “sticking points” for the Protestant.

I am particularly drawn to the Catholic Church’s anthropology and Christology.  I am no theologian, and I am admittedly lazy when it comes to doing my homework, but there is a kind of depth in the Catholic church that is missing from every Protestant church I have attended, and I have attended a few. And I believe this must be true even when a Catholic mass seems rather humdrum and uninspired, because it’s not about emotions conjured in a church service, it’s not about the singing or the sermon, it’s about the true meaning of the Mass. Simply, Protestants do not have the Mass.

I must say that if the Church is like a person, then one might expect such a person who exudes a mysterious depth of character, even if one cannot fully describe it, to be more compelling than a person who lacks that depth. It seems to me that Protestantism, for all the good it offers, lacks the kind of mysterious depth of character that one finds in the Catholic Church. In all this, however, I could be wrong; I don’t want to look merely at appearances.  And one thing is clear, the Orthodox church fully embraces mystery in a big way, perhaps more than the Catholic church, and I find that very appealing. There is great beauty in mystery and the Orthodox church.

Keep in mind, I am not pointing to individuals. Though Protestantism on the whole lacks the depth I seek, the people I know and love have infinite depth. What I might hazard, is to say that there may be a discontinuity between many individual Christians and the Protestantism in which they participate. I think, for some, deep in their souls they want more. Perhaps this explains the tendency for a constant willingness of so many Protestants to change churches, and why many Protestants are beginning to examine Orthodoxy. Protestantism has become the seeker version of Christianity. Maybe it always was; just look at how many divisions there have been since Luther staked out his claim to the truth and broke from Rome. Of course, we long for the kingdom to come in fullness. Until that day all of us will live with the discontinuity, on some level, between our longings and reality.

Why Not Eastern Orthodox?

So Eastern Orthodoxy captivated me for a while, but then I am of the West, not the East. To cross over to the Orthodox church is attractive precisely because it offers a kind of escape from the insanity of western post-industrial consumerist society. There is something radically “other” about Orthodoxy in its non-western essence. To visit an Eastern Orthodox church is like stepping into the 8th century. I recommend it for everyone. However, for me to become Orthodox would be a kind of “get me off this merry-go-round” statement. But God has placed me squarely in the western stream of life; this is the world in which I live, the language I speak, the ideas that inform and make me. Though I wish to escape at times, I realize that escape is not the answer. It is better to embrace who I am, who God has made me, and go from there. I am western not eastern. To embrace the Orthodox church, which I would like to do at some level, would be, for me at least, merely a kind of continuation of my Protestantism, akin to jumping over the Catholic Church to the other side. To embrace Catholicism would be, for me at least, a step toward unity. To be loosely evangelical would be too mushy, to stay Protestant or become Orthodox would still be too divisive, to be Catholic, though not without its own history of drawing lines, seems to offer a more open arms position. Ironically, I find the Catholic Church to be the most ecumenical of all.

Remember that I am rather ignorant of all this. I’m sure my understanding of Eastern Orthodoxy is so limited as to be more a caricature than truth. Perhaps it is just best to say, that though God brought Eastern Orthodoxy into my life in a small way, perhaps to enrich it, He has called me to the Catholic Church, and that’s where my heart is.

Finally… for now

I must say, however, that I don’t believe I have a lot of illusions about the Catholic Church as an experience. My visits to Mass a few times convinced me that Catholics can be as uninspired as anyone. And I don’t believe Catholics are any more righteous in their behavior than other Christians, in fact they are likely less pious than many in Protestantism with its strong pietistic heritage.  Really, we are all the same, our issues and our desires are the same, and we bring ourselves wherever we go. If I were to become Catholic I will not suddenly change into someone else, become more spiritual, become holy, see the heavens open up, etc. I’ll still be ordinary, mediocre me. But I do believe the Catholic Church may truly be the “fullness” of the church Christ established. I do believe that Christ is present in the Catholic Mass in a way not found in Protestant churches. I do believe that apostolic succession points to Rome, and I don’t want to be disobedient. And certainly, though the Catholic Church is filled, as are Protestant churches, to the brim with sinners, there is a seemingly unending richness of Christian experience in Catholicism not found anywhere else. As a good friend of ours put it: History, Mystery Authority. It has it all. Plus, and my interest in this has surprised me, the Catholic Church has the confessional. That sounds to me like a difficult but glorious blessing. As Chesterton once answered when asked why he became Catholic: “To get my sins forgiven.”

Of course there is much more to be said. I am still on my journey, still exploring, still learning, and not Catholic. I have visited a couple of Catholic churches, I will again. I am taking up the Catholic Church’s Year of Faith by reading through the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the documents of Vatican II, and numerous other books. I am curious where this will all lead. And I am praying a lot. I give this all to God, best I can.

Agnus Dei, qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.

I am coming to believe in the Catholic doctrine of apostolic succession. This is a radical break from my Protestant/Reformed background.

A theme running through much of Protestantism is the desire to “get back” to the Apostolic Church, that is, the beginning. The apostles (especially Paul) are a big deal to Protestants, which is good. The idea that animates this theme of getting back to the beginning is a belief in an assumed purity that must have existed in the early Church, and which was increasingly corrupted as the Church got caught up in the worldly machinations of politics, Greek philosophy, paganism, arcane theological debates, bureaucracy, etc. Getting back, however, is usually not seen as a pure imitation of looking like those early Christians (who had many flaws anyway), rather it is usually a desire to get back to a pure understanding of what the apostles taught. This is a good thing, but it is difficult and typically (since the Reformation) has included an unqualified rejection of all tradition of the historical church—at least by Fundamentalists. Stripping away all supposed encumbrances of “religion” (as understood by Christians today) is at the very heart of sola scriptura and/or radical biblicism. Still, it is important not to try and “read” the hearts of individuals too closely; there are many reasons one may be a radical biblicist.

The idea is this: One cannot have the necessary freedom to be committed to sola scriptura if one is under a historical, successive, hierarchical, and dogmatic authority. Sola scriptura is antithetical to the magisterium and papal authority, and even tradition. Thus, apostolic succession (whereby the bishops get their authority handed down to them) stands in the way of sola scriptura, which means it stands in the way of the truth—or the possibility of coming to the truth. One must be free of authority, and in particular, specifically, and unequivocally, Catholic authority. Ironically, in much of Protestantism most pastors become a mini-popes, claiming their own authority to teach the scriptures, lead their flocks, and run their churches their way.

[Note: It was once said that printing the Bible in the vernacular made every man a pope—anyone could interpret as they wished, etc. The reality is that the average Christian looks to their pastor for interpretation, not to themselves, and pastors are typically only too willing to accept that responsibility. In this sense, and unfortunately, all too many pastors desire their pulpit for similar reasons that politicians desire their office.]

Anyway, that need for freedom is a perspective taught me by my Baptist church when I was young, and the perspective other churches I have attended. The basic idea is that the Reformation (which seems to me to have became more of a rebellion, uninterested in reforming the Church it ultimately despised, than a true reformation) sought to recover the authentic Apostolic Church, as though the Catholic Church had no interest in being genuinely, authentically Apostolic—and the Eastern Churches were essentially forgotten and thus not on the Protestant radar. In Reformed parlance, to get back to the early church, to be truly apostolic, is to reject the idea of apostolic succession. Interestingly, ever since the Reformation this theme (any many others) has grown and morphed until popular Christianity now no longer looks like the Church of the Reformers, and ironically, looks nothing like the Church of the Apostles from what I can tell.

And yet, I like the Protestant desire to get back to the basics, to recall the era of the earliest Church, and to be truly Apostolic. And certainly I agree that we should always have the highest regard for the teachings of the apostles—not just that we like them the most, but that we regard them as the highest.

But I am curious about Apostolic tradition. What is it that the Apostles established? How was it passed on? Do we still have, or follow, their tradition today? The Catholic and Orthodox Churches both claim Apostolic tradition—they claim that they do go back to the apostles, and have remained true to their teaching. Protestants don’t like the word tradition, so each (that is, each of the many thousands of Protestant denominations) claim something like the purity of the Gospel as against the traditions of other churches (Catholic, Orthodox, and other Protestant churches). In other words it is authentic apostolic Christianity versus the traditions of men. And yet, anyone who has even slightly questioned the teaching of their Baptist or fundamentalist preacher has learned quickly the Protestant tradition of every preacher a pope. (Catch a typical Protestant pastor misusing the Greek—because he knows his congregation doesn’t read Greek—and one is like to get a dismissive response, and even be belittled. Fortunately there are still some pastors and Bible teachers with real humility and grace.)

I wonder if the apostles would look at modern evangelicalism or fundamentalism and scratch their heads. Would they ask, “But where’s the church of Jesus Christ, the one he founded? Who’s in charge here? Where are your bishops?” Most Protestants would say the apostles would ask nothing of the sort. I am beginning to think otherwise. I am beginning to think that if a typical Protestant could time-travel back to the time of the apostles and early Church the response would be something like, “Oops.”

With all this in mind, I have sought to know what the Catholic church teaches. I am just beginning my study of this topic. The following quotes are taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I have inserted my thoughts throughout.

I. The Apostolic Tradition

75 “Christ the Lord, in whom the entire Revelation of the most high God is summed up, commanded the apostles to preach the Gospel, which had been promised beforehand by the prophets, and which he fulfilled in his own person and promulgated with his own lips. In preaching the Gospel, they were to communicate the gifts of God to all men. This Gospel was to be the source of all saving truth and moral discipline.”

My thoughts: Here we have one primary focus, that is, the Gospel. To be “apostolic” is to be about the Gospel. For us moderns, when we seek to live within the apostolic tradition, to have our churches be apostolic (which is a popular idea for Protestant churches seeking to break free from perceived impositions of the Christian “religion”), is to be about the fundamental message of Christ. Thus, to be apostolic is not to be about the apostles per se, rather it is to be all about the Gospel, which was fulfilled in Christ. The apostolic tradition begins thus with Christ. However, to be all about Christ does not preclude organization, structure, or even institutionalization. Because Christ and His Gospel are before and beyond (though not apart from) all structures and institutionalizations,  man can thus follow, in freedom, his natural and necessary requirements for liturgy, hierarchy, structure, authority, repetition, organization, community, praxis, responsibility, and sacrifice. These are not impediments to being apostolic, rather they are the extension of our humanity, our imageness, extending outward into the world and working inward upon us such that we are encouraged in our faith and drawn close to God. The apostolic tradition, while offering a picture of beginnings, perhaps even suggesting a kind of purity of faith, nonetheless established the proper foundation for the historical and visible Church, which is the mystical body of Christ extending into and through the creation.

In the apostolic preaching. . .

76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways:

  • orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”;
  • in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, committed the message of salvation to writing”.

My thoughts: Christ lived his Gospel, teaching it through his actions, including the cross. Christ spoke his gospel through direct and indirect language (stories and parables). Christ sent the Holy Spirit so that the Gospel would be both understood and take root in the hearts those who believed. Some of this—Christ’s actions, Christ’s words, and evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit—was written down for the early Church and for all of us who have come later. We can presume most of it was not written down, rather it was passed on through the teaching of the apostles and others, and through the practices they established. This is exactly the kind of human, historical situation that would establish traditions of teaching and worship in order to promote and preserve the Gospel. To assume the early Church was incapable or uninterested in maintaining the purity of orthodoxy and orthopraxy is far fetched. To imagine the Holy Spirit was incapable or uninterested in building and sustaining the Church from the beginning until now seems like foolishness. For a Bible teacher to assume theological darkness befell the Church after it first century, only to catch the first rays of light again in the 16th century, is potentially to warrant suspicion in all that he teaches.

. . . continued in apostolic succession

77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority.” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”

My thoughts: I think of the founding fathers of the United States of America. What they gave to us was a government not only a document. If they had only written the Constitution, but did not establish a government to live out that document and keep it preserved and alive, then all would have been chaos. Scripture tells us that God establishes rulers. Some rulers are good and some are bad, but to be ruled is as much a necessity of being human as is freedom. They go together. Perhaps to elevate scriptures over the Church is to show disinterest in Christ’s teaching and desires about His Church. It is also to open the Christian life to institutional chaos, diminish the ability for unity, and potentially distort the Gospel. This is the Protestant legacy.

Clearly the Scriptures are given to us in order to help secure right thinking about God. But it seems equally as clear that Jesus was and is more interested in his Church, in the love and unity of his body, than in scriptures; that the scriptures exist in order to help with that love and unity, to serve that love and unity.

Here’s a thought: Could it be that the “I love Jesus but not religion” position be, in fact, against Jesus? If Jesus and his apostles left us the Church, including offices with apostolic authority, and one refuses to accept the reality of those offices, then is not one refusing, in part, to love Jesus—if, at least, we include in loving Jesus the requirement to keep his commandments? Are we disobeying Christ if we refuse his Church (even as we claim to be part of that Church in our “own way”)? I think so—though I recognize the complicated nature of our age with many being educated to refuse the Church. My desire is to love Jesus, to give my life to him, to serve him, and to follow him. I want to believe in the open arms grace of God. But I also know the gate is narrow, and I know many believe God knows them when in fact they will be separated like goats from the sheep. It’s not about hedging my bets, though, but it is an earnest desire to be led and to follow. In fear and trembling… in fear and trembling…

78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, “the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes.” “The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer.”

My thoughts: As I understand it, the Scriptures are to be understood as part of Tradition. Given that there are always the possibilities for many interpretations, it makes sense to consider the legacy of Tradition handed down by the Apostles and the early Church (and the continuing Church) as the means of keeping those interpretations on track. At the same time, the Christian life is not first and foremost about interpretations of Scripture, but of the life of faith lived out in love. Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love. It is not the Bible that gives life, it is being in the body of Christ—being part of a living, visible, mystical organism—that gives life. We should venerate the holy Fathers for their love of Christ, and for their love of us as they proved excellent witnesses for us. Perhaps we should see the Church as this big, rich, mysterious outpouring of the Holy Spirit inside and outside time and space, with our burning hearts driving the organism forward, and our curious minds continually enlivened by the fathomless “I AM”, and our souls longing for eternity within the loving gift we call human nature and all that is life giving and speaks to it, such as freedom, tradition, and authority. Perhaps we need to see Holy Scriptures as subservient to all that.

And perhaps one would object, saying that to “lower” the Scriptures, as it were, to being “merely” a part of Tradition is to open the door to abuse. And perhaps the response is to say, “May it never be…” that to know the Church is to know the Holy Spirit and the loving care that has been lavished on the Body of Christ throughout its visible and mystical history.

And perhaps the greatest gifts given to us by Saint Paul are not his epistles, perhaps they are his prayers.

79 The Father’s self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: “God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church – and through her in the world – leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness.”

My thoughts: By the work of the Holy Spirit we are the Church, the Body of Christ. We choose God only to discover that we have already been chosen. We love to find out that we have already been loved. We also receive the gift of adoption, the gift of faith, the gift of having brothers and sisters, and the gift of the scriptures. We live out the traditions, imperfectly, but with genuine hope. The Spirit has never left the Church, though some, even claiming the name of Christ, have left the Church. And yet God is sovereign. What His plans are, and why the story has gone the ways it has, must be for good. Work out your salvation… for it is God…

From FIRST APOLOGY: CHAPTER LXVII — WEEKLY WORSHIP OF THE CHRISTIANS:

And on the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons. And they who are well to do, and willing, give what each thinks fit; and what is collected is deposited with the president, who succours the orphans and widows and those who, through sickness or any other cause, are in want, and those who are in bonds and the strangers sojourning among us, and in a word takes care of all who are in need. But Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead. (Roberts-Donaldson translation)

From FIRST APOLOGY: CHAPTER LXVI — OF THE EUCHARIST:

And this food is called among us Eukaristia [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, “This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;” and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, “This is My blood;” and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn. (Roberts-Donaldson translation)

In the upper room, before His crucifixion, with his apostles;

Then he took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me.” (Luke 22:19, NABRE)

On the road to Emmaus, after His crucifixion, with two disciples, one of which was Cleopas (who was not in the upper room):

And it happened that, while he was with them at table, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and gave it to them. With that their eyes were opened and they recognized him… (Luke 24:30-31a, NABRE)

The Apostle Paul (who was not in the upper room or on the road to Emmaus):

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-24, NABRE)

Why would we not want, if possible, the Eucharist every day?

From The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 17 (NKJV):

Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas. But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.” And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews.

“These who have turned the world upside down…” Ain’t that the truth.

The following is a great explanation on the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist by Fr. Robert Barron:

Fr. Barron refers to the favorite scriptural passage that Catholics (and anyone who believes in the Real Presence) use to argue for the Real Presence in the Eucharist—The Gospel of St. John, chapter 6, verses 22 through 70 (NKJV):

On the following day, when the people who were standing on the other side of the sea saw that there was no other boat there, except that one which His disciples had entered, and that Jesus had not entered the boat with His disciples, but His disciples had gone away alone—however, other boats came from Tiberias, near the place where they ate bread after the Lord had given thanks—when the people therefore saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they also got into boats and came to Capernaum, seeking Jesus. And when they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You come here?”

Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.”

Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?”

Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Therefore they said to Him, “What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, give us this bread always.”

And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

The Jews therefore quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this Man give us His flesh to eat?”

Then Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven—not as your fathers ate the manna, and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”

These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?”

When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you? What then if you should see the Son of Man ascend where He was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who would betray Him. And He said, “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.”

From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?”

But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve, and one of you is a devil?” He spoke of Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, for it was he who would betray Him, being one of the twelve.