Monday, September 22, 2014

The Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession)

When we talk about the confessional, it seems that people immediately get scared and nervous.  The idea of telling someone the skeletons in your closet is terrifying to most people.    Why is this?  Ultimately it comes down to shame and judgement.  Shame for what we have done, and the associated embarrassment, and the fear of judgement from others.....the strange looks, the second thoughts, perhaps the severing of a relationship.  

Thankfully, God does not respond to our sin, the way people around us might.   He loves us and pours out his grace upon us.   He suffered for us on the cross and he bore the weight of all of our shortcomings.   Sharing our shortcomings with God is something he wants from us, he wants to help us and he wants to bring us through the darkness into the light. 

So why is the confessional so scary?  It shouldn't be.  It is a place where we can meet God and hear the words of forgiveness said to us.  That someone representing God and the Church is there and hears what we have done and tells us that we are forgiven no matter what.  The sin is gone, it is erased.   Someone is there to anonymously hear what we need to get out, what is bottled up, what is burdening us, and that same person to tell us it is ok to let the burden of sin go, to let Christ take it for us. 

As a protestant, I was no stranger to asking God for forgiveness.  I did it plenty in prayer, but there was something lacking, something I could not ever put my finger on, but present none the less.  It was  a burden that I continued to carry.  My sins, though asked for forgiveness for, still bore weight on me.  I knew God forgave me, but I could not fully release the burden that the sin had placed on me.  Small sins, bigger sins, no matter, there was a burden.   

I appreciated the idea of the Confessional, there was something that seemed right about it.  I was still nervous going in, but it was the most amazing experience I have ever had.   I went into the confessional, burdened and came out freed.   Hearing the words of absolution brought tears to my eyes,  I experienced first hand the Divine Mercy of Christ.  It was so real you could feel it.  I felt like I walked a few feet taller after that.   

In my journey to the Catholic Faith, I did a lot of study, read a lot of information, talked to a lot of people.  I was convinced of the Catholic Faith, intellectually.   Everything I learned, all the apologetics, all the arguments, were mere dust compared to how real the experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation was.  God's mercy was felt,  His grace received, and it was clear that God works and acts through his church.  

There is something very therapeutic for the soul about going to confession.   It forces you to search yourself, acknowledge your sin, and strive to change.   It is far too easy for us to condone bad behavior in ourselves, or justify wrongdoing.   It is far to easy to bottle things up and not really deal with them.  Confession counters those problems in a real way.   

Confession reconciles us with God, by coming to him with our sin and asking forgiveness.  God works through the priest in this by assuring us of our forgiveness in the provision of absolution and by using the priest to offer us ways to reconcile the damage done by our sins in penance.  Ways to help us heal our soul from the damage that has been done to it by our sin.  

Confession also reconciles us to the Church.  It returns us from a wayward sheep back into the flock.   This was seen from the earliest times when they used to have public confessions before the whole church!  While a motivator to keep the narrow path, I imagine people began to hide their sins a bit to avoid the public confession and the private confessional developed to meet such  a pastoral need. 

For those that are uncertain of the basis of confession in the Bible,  I can post a couple verses here.

John 20:21-23

 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

This shows that Jesus commissioned the Apostles to go out and hear sins and forgive them if the people were sorry, or not forgive them if they weren't . This authority was handed on as the Apostles handed on their office through the ages to the Bishops of today.

James 5:13-16

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise.14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

I really love this verse 16.  In my previous evangelical upbringing the idea of confessing sins to another person would have been very outlandish.   There was no reason for it and no one ever did it.   Certainly not to the pastors or elders outside of perhaps some sort of counseling type of situation.  I like how this section of verses describes calling the elders to you and asking them to pray for you.  That their prayer is powerful and effective and that you should confess your sins to these elders.   This is what is done in the Confessional (this section also describes "Last Rites"). 

I have been wanting to do a post on Confession for a while due to my really amazing experience with it, but I hadn't formulated enough ideas for it, or taken the time to right it all down.   Our Parish priest spoke to the RCIA class this last week on this topic and it sort of rekindled the flame.  

  Sometimes we are so critical with ourselves that we convince ourselves that God can't or won't forgive us.  This is nothing but Satan lying to us.  The God who brought forth the Universe from nothing, can most certainly forgive any pitiful sin we commit.   

I also want to point out that the Confessional is a great tool for our own sanctification, something we can all say that we strive for.  We should always want to grow in Christian holiness.  Going to the confessional regularly is a great way to do that.  It is a way for us to really examine ourselves and report our faults.  A time to grow in prayer and receiving God's Grace.   The popes have gone to confessional quite frequently.....every week or two. They do this as both an example to us, and to form their consciences and humble themselves before God.   It is important for them, and it is important for us for the same reasons. 

So what are you waiting for?  

Go and lay down your burdens today!

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Catholic Church- On Icons

We recently had a visit to our parish of a Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa.   The icon originates in Poland, and has been traveling around the world on a pilgrimage for the sanctity of human life.  It is a very beautiful image of the Blessed Mother holding a child Jesus.  There is a lot of information on the icon that one can read at this link : Our Lady of Czestochowa Information

Seeing the icon in person was a great experience.  It is a part of Christian history dating back at least 700 years, with tradition saying that the Gospel writer Luke painted it.    It is an icon, that I probably would never see in my life, except that it came to my very own parish.  So even just from an interesting museum type historical standpoint, it was a nice thing to see, but icons are much more than that and often times a stumbling block for people interested in the Catholic Faith.

So what is an icon exactly?  Icons are images of Christian Figures that are in some ways like a window to heaven.   They are a physical display of a diving reality as best as we can have that.   Icons help us, as physical creatures, imagine something about the Divine.  In this case about Mary and Jesus, their relationship with each other, and with us.   It helps us see God becoming man, and what that means for us.  

Often it is viewed by people that are unfamiliar with icons and the rich tradition of them throughout Christian History as a form of idolatry.  This cannot be further from the truth however.  No one is worshiping the icon, instead they worship God with the aid of the icon.   We would never say it is idolatry to pray before an open Bible, or to sing praises with images of Christ on a Power Point Screen flashing by.  But for some reason it becomes idolatry in the minds of some, when the image is a permanent picture or statue.   All of these forms of art, whether they be a statue or a powerpoint video, serve the same purpose of helping us focus on God.

As a convert,  this was something I had to come to understand.  The last thing anyone wants to do is become an idolater.   It takes serious reflection and understanding to fully understand what one should do in relation to icons.   In fact, many lifelong Catholics may need a refresher on practices related to icons, to ensure they are not erroneously falling into idolatry.  

I couldn't help but imagine what I as a then Protestant would have done if the ark of the covenant had been discovered, or the true cross.   Imagine as a protestant someone without any doubt whatsoever, bringing the actual cross of Christ into your church to display.   Would you not, display it reverently up in front?  Would you not perhaps decorate around it with lights and flowers?  Would you not encourage people to come and sit or kneel at the foot of the cross?  Would you not encourage people to gently touch the areas where Christ's feet were pierced?  

I think everyone would see no problem in any of that.  Knowing that all worship and thanks and honor is going to Christ and not the actual cross.  It brings us closer to his suffering, closer to experiencing him in a very real and tangible way.

The same is true with icons, and a proper veneration of the icon in an act of humble worship to God.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why am I becoming Catholic- A personal journey

Why am I becoming Catholic?

To many it may seem odd that I am becoming Catholic.  They might say, "Who becomes Catholic? I thought people leave the Catholic Church?"  I thought that myself at one point.   I was literally the only person I knew who was becoming Catholic, at least prior to starting the process.   I know plenty of people born in the Catholic Church, practicing and non practicing.  But the vast majority of the people I know are Evangelical Protestant types. My own Family being almost entirely Baptist/Evangelical, the Catholic Church was very foreign to me.

There was no chance of me ever becoming Catholic, other than by God's guiding hand.

During my marriage, it became evident to me that the Bible could be interpreted by anyone in just about anyway.  I won't get into all the specifics, but conflict in my marriage could not be settled by "the Bible Alone"  both my wife and I turned to an outside Authority to "interpret" the Bible.   Both of us held our beliefs, and not even "majority rules" seemed to work when it came to interpretation since a very good argument could be made that Jesus said "the gate is narrow and few find it".  If that is true, perhaps the majority opinion was wrong.   My marriage fell apart for a number of reasons, but this was at the core in my opinion.   That said, the issue was shelved while my personal life was sorted out.

During this time, I made an effort to complete my degree at the local community college.  I had to take one class....any complete my residency requirement and graduate.  I got into the only online class I could, Philosophy of Religion.   My goal was to do as little as possible to get through the class to get my degree and be done with it all.  As part of this class I had to go on two field trips, one to an Eastern Religious site and one to a Western Religious site.  Both had to be outside of my own tradition. Naturally, I went to the local Roman Catholic Church for a Sunday mass to satisfy my field trip requirements.

I was taken back by the beauty of the Church, and even though I did not know exactly what was going on, I did my best to follow along and participate.  It was very moving to kneel and seek forgiveness and be humble before God.  I was so used to a tradition that was anything but focused on having a penitent spirit before God as part of the Sunday service.   I would later be reading Thomas Merton's "The Seven Story Mountain" and can relate so much to his first experience in a Catholic Church;

"One came out of the church with a kind of comfortable and satisfied feeling that something had been done that needed to be done.....It is a law of man's nature, written into his very essence, and just as much a part of him as the desire to build houses and cultivate the land and marry and have children and read books and sing songs, that he should want to stand together with other men in order to acknowledge their common dependence on God, their Father and Creator. In fact, this desire is much more fundamental than any purely physical necessity."

To say that the mass was an impact on me is really an understatement. It was moving and spiritual, beautiful and intellectual. It was true and humble worship. Not a show, not a performance, not meant to entertain, not even really meant as a Bible study, but something much more than those things. It was not about me, but God and his relationship with me. I wanted to learn more and began reading, surfing the net, listening to sermons, and watching Father Barron's Youtube videos. I found myself sliding into the back row at a weekday mass to watch it all again. I found myself going to Catholic Mass and my Evangelical Church on Sundays.

I slowly and surely worked on the hurdles that I had with Catholicism. After all, it is all fine and dandy to have a beautiful liturgy, or an emotional experience, but that is not enough or of much value if the church is not teaching God's truth.  The number one issue for me was Authority.  This is where my issue with my marriage had left me and one of the first issues I had looked at.   Who exactly has the authority to interpret what the Bible says?   Even before I ever took that class and went to my first mass, I had deduced that in order to solve my scriptural dispute, I would need to look at the historical church to see what they said over the millenniums regarding the passages in dispute.   Ideally I would find some writings from the early church in the decades after Christ that would corroborate one idea over the other.

Well, I found the early church Fathers, and their writings.   Writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Rome, Irenaeus, Augustine, and Ignatius of Antioch, Third Bishop of Antioch who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Ignatius of Antioch had a profound impact on me.  It was he who says regarding the Authority of the Bishop (I had no bishop in my protestant tradition);

"Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity.  For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, and they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God.  If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]." -Epistle to the Philippians Chapter III 107 AD

"In like manner let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the Apostles." -Epistle to the Trallians Chapter III 107AD

"See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid." -Epistle to the Smyrenaens Chapter VIII 107AD

Such passages hit me like a ton of bricks.  It was so foreign to my understanding of the Church and my upbringing.  But it made absolute sense.  It made absolute sense to me that Christ would leave his church with Authority to implement Matt 18.  That when he said take your disputes finally to the church that he meant you could go to the church for resolution, and if you didn't listen, you could be disciplined.   Such a church is what was lacking in my own personal disputes.  Here is writing from the very early second century confirming such authority and no where do I read anything positive from the church about schismatics or "reformers" acting outside and apart from the bishops.   

The authority domino had been pushed over for me, and when you relinquish authority to Christ and his Church the other dominos tumble just as fast as the first.   I found though, that the Early Church had much to say about my standard Evangelical convert "problem points"; The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist,  Infant Baptism, Sacramental Confession, Mary and the Saints.   These were my hurdles like many others before me.  Hurdles that more easily came down when trusting the Church's authority, but still needed work.  I found the Early Church Fathers, and the corresponding Scriptures they point to, to overwhelmingly make the case for all of these.   I found them not to be invented traditions, but core tenets found very early and throughout Christian History.   

More and more, I found that I had been following a relatively modern tradition, with week roots to even the Reformation, let alone the early church.  

Still uncertain if I should fully convert to the church, I prayed and asked God for guidance.  I asked that he would clearly show me if I should make the conversion now or stay an evangelical who went to Catholic mass from time to time.   I wanted to get involved in church, whatever church that was.   So I emailed my Evangelical Church to see if they had a way for me to get plugged in.  It was a large church, and I received an email back telling me about a ministry kickoff several months in the future where I could maybe meet some people or find a ministry.  "Ok" I though, but it felt a bit impersonal.  A bit like they were too busy to help me right now.   I never felt unwelcome or anything like that, but just sort of lost in the hustle and bustle of a very large church.  

So, I decided to find the local Catholic Church to visit since I had recently moved and had not attended a church near my new home.   I googled it, and found three nearby, one of them seemed closer than the others so I went there.   I was very happy with the priest's homily and the enthusiasm in participation of the congregation.  They made an announcement at the end to check out their ministry expo in the fellowship hall afterwards.   I eagerly went and found a table to inquire about small groups.  After telling a fraction of my story, I was hugged and welcomed and taken and introduced to the RCIA director and his wife, both converts as well (There really are other converts I thought!) 

Needless to say, I asked God for a sign of which Church I should attend and he could not have made it clearer.   I found out later this ministry expo is one weekend per year, and I just happened to attend my first mass there that Sunday.   I was enrolled in RCIA and began Inquiry followed by the Rite of Welcome and the full RCIA class.  

It has now been over a year and half since that ministry expo, and two and a half years since my first mass.  It has been quite a journey filled with God's provision and faithfulness.  A time when my faith has grown, and developed.  My love for Christ has blossomed, and my hope for the future increased.  It is a time where I have learned so much of what God has for our lives, and how much I was missing before.  A time filled with his grace and peace, and surrounded by a community that really truly cares for one another.   A time to meet priests who have devoted their lives to God and shepherding his flock, a time to have my first Reconciliation, and experience really and truly God's forgiveness, and now a time to enter into Holy Week and be received into Full Communion with the Catholic Church.   I know my road is just starting, but I cannot wait to see where it goes.  

I was given this quote at my RCIA retreat beneath a picture of myself with my 8 fellow RCIA elect/candidates.   It now sits framed in my dining room and it is how I desire to look at my Christian journey;

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.

He has not created me for naught. I shall do good; I shall do His work.

I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place,
while not intending it if I do but keep His commandments.

Therefore, I will trust Him, whatever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him, in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him. If I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. He does nothing in vain. He knows what He is about. He may take away my friends. He may throw me among strangers. He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide my future from me. Still, He knows what He is about.”  -Blessed John Henry Newman


Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Today's Christians Hate the Movie Noah

I was finally able to get out and see the movie Noah.    I thoroughly enjoyed the cinematic features, story line and moral questions raised.   Overall I would say I loved the film.  Prior to seeing Noah, I had  read the reviews and criticism.  I had an idea of the controversy surrounding the film as "deviating from the Biblical narrative", but on a personal level that did not bother me.  I knew that I could enjoy the film even if it was a far stretch of the Bible.

I understood in reading the many commentaries on Noah, that the uproar over the film was due to a deviation from the Biblical narrative.  Something that Fundamentalist leaning Christians would certainly see as a problem.  Naturally a full length feature film could not be made over the very short text in the Bible and some character development and filler material would have to be added.  Everyone would be ok with that, but the movie did much more than that.  It created a primordial world that we really know virtually nothing about.  It pulled from sources outside the Bible to fill in gaps.  One of which was the book of Enoch which is an ancient Jewish text outside the Bible.  Interestingly enough the Book of Enoch is actually referenced in the book of Jude, so it seems early Christians were at least familiar with it, and while not scripture, it seems appropriate to me for the creators of the film to go to other Jewish and ancient traditions to fill in the gaps.  They seemed to do this well.  The Watchers seemed to make Genesis 6 come alive and make sense with the book of Enoch.

In the end they painted a very good picture of what could have taken place.  After all we don't know for certain much other than the world was destroyed by a flood and one family built a boat and saved themselves and two of each kind.

But after going through all that, and reading all the blogs and reviews, and complaints and explanations of Jewish midrash, I think it is none of that as to why today's Christians hate the movie Noah.   Instead it is something much deeper and central to our spirituality.

Noah confronts the issue of evil, the issue of a a fallen world, the issue of judgement, the issue of miracles, and the issues of just how separate we are from where we were meant to be.

These are questions and issues that make many today uncomfortable.  We view ourselves as Holy when we are fallen, Righteous when we are filled with sin,  Free of judgement while we live in our sins, and logical with no room for the miraculous.  These issues are all forefront in the Noah movie, and I believe the real reasons that people are uncomfortable with it.

(Possible Spoiler Alerts after this point...but we all know how it ends right?)

There is a beautiful seen in which the Creation story is read and we see the earth and all creation created up to and including man.  It is a beautiful display of theistic evolution but that is for another post perhaps.  The point that really drew me was how strange Adam and Eve looked compared to how we normally see them.  We normally see them as being like us, but the movie has them looking much more like the Risen Christ.  Glorified Holy Bodies.  This shows just how severe the fall from grace was.   How much separation occurred when man sinned and how that sin and separation is passed on to all of us.   God is holy, he wants us to be holy again, and God is just, his justice must be satisfied.  It wasn't in the time of Noah, man was so dark and evil, that God wished he had not created man.  This darkness and evil is shown very well in the movie.  Truly it must have been in the face of such evil that God felt he must wipe out humanity.   Our sins do have consequences.  They have consequences to this life and the next life.   We often in our culture, operate under an idea that we have a "license to sin".  Yes it is unofficially taught in so many churches.   That God has forgiven it all and how we live is inconsequential to our salvation.

That is a lie, the story of Noah is the greatest act of evil and genocide by God if it is true.

The truth is that our choices affect who we are and how we live and those around us.  Our choices are essential in the story of our salvation.   Before you accuse me of "works salvation" let me say that is not what I am advocating.  Our salvation is in Christ and his work.   Our sanctification and holiness and acceptance of his gift is through our Faith.  Faith is a life change, a choice to pursue holiness, a choice to choose God first in all things, not the typical intellectual ascension we often give faith...."just believe that Jesus died for you and your good to go".   The Bible tells us the demons believe and I don't think we would call them Christ followers.   The call to personal holiness in pursuit of Christ is a challenging one, and one that the Noah movie presents as part of God's creation, and one that makes us uncomfortable today.  The good news about personal holiness is that we don't have to be perfect, Noah was not perfect.  Instead we need to orient ourselves to God as Noah did and as is so wonderfully displayed in the film.

Another issue that personally struck me by the film was just how magnificent the miracles were.   I have often found ways to try and logically and naturally justify the flood, maybe it was just a regional flood from the melting ice caps that seemed global to man at the time for example.   So this film challenged such thinking.  It was miraculous throughout, and surely God is a miraculous God.  The God that speaks the universe into existence surely can do whatever he likes.  He can make the fallen angels into rock creatures, he can burst forth a stream, grow a forest or a flower in an instant, and flood the whole world.   God does act through nature and natural processes, but it is time that I stop putting him into a box of naturalism.   God is much more, much grander, and much more powerful than I could ever imagine.  I am very appreciative of the film for bringing this out of me.

So, I highly encourage you to go and see the Noah Film.   Give it a chance.  Step out of the few lines of scripture and open your hearts and minds to see the Grandness of God, the Beauty, the Justice, and the Merciful and Miraculous.

And lets all board the Ark of the Church which has been sent for our modern Salvation from the horrors of sin. We do not need to be perfect to get on.....we just need to be pursuing Christ and placing true faith in him for our salvation.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Church Fathers were Catholic- On the Canon of Scripture

I recently put a quote of one of the daily readings from Sirach 15:17-21 on my Facebook page and received an interesting comment.  That comment serves as the motivation for this post. 

The comment said along the lines of, "What is Sirach? That quote is from Ecclesiastes".  So I responded and explained that it is not from Ecclesiastes and Ecclesiastes does not even have 15 Chapters, but Sirach is also called ECCLESIASTICUS which is different than Ecclesiastes.  

This came from a dear Protestant friend who I respect dearly, but it left me so sad. 

Sad that this Christ follower is completely unaware of the Historical Bible.  The Bible used for the first 1500 years of Christianity.  The Bible first printed on the printing press, the Bible as recorded in the First King James Bible, the Bible as seen in the Latin Vulgate, the complete Septuagint, and the Bible used for most of Christian history is completely unknown to modern Protestant laity. 

It has come to a point were the seven books of the deuterocanonicals found in Catholic Bibles are not protested by Protestants, instead they are just not even known to exist by so many. 

I know this was my understanding as a Protestant. I had heard of the Apochrypha, as we called it, but I knew nothing of it, nor why I called it Apochrypha when all the great theologians pre Luther called it Scripture. 

And so it makes me sad that these books are missing from my Protestant Bibles. Historically this is because Luther adopted the Jewish Canon rather than the Greek Canon but why does he have such authority to do so? 

Imagine if a prominent Protestant theologian of today, let's say Alistair McGrath, said that all of Paul's letters should be rejected. Perhaps he presents a case for it that is somewhat convincing and in 500 years his position is the norm in Protestantism, and the letters of Paul are all but forgotten in their churches.  

Would not the people of the future defend the erroneous position they were raised in?  Would they not defend and find reason for their position to not have Paul's letters? Would not Apologists form ministries defending their position? 

Of course. 

And this is exactly what has happened with the deuterocanonicals of the Bible. The seven books were erroneously rejected by a man and that man-made tradition became the norm and a clear deviation from History. 

So what books did the Church Fathers use for their Canon?

The earliest writing we have declaring the Canon of Scripture is from the Council of Rome in 382 and the Synod of Hippo attended by St Augustine in 393 AD.  It went on to be codified at the Third Council of Carthage in 397;

"It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures. The Canonical Scriptures are these: GenesisExodusLeviticusNumbersDeuteronomyJoshua the son of NunJudgesRuth, four books of Kings (1 and 2 Kings and 1 and 2 Samuel) two books of Paraleipomena (1 and 2 Chronicles) Job, the Psalter, five books of Solomon (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, Wisdom, and a portion of the Psalms) the books of the twelve prophets,Isaiah, JeremiahEzechiel, DanielTobit, Judith, Esther, two books of Esdras, two books of the Maccabees. Of the New Testament: four books of the Gospels, one book of the Acts of the Apostles, thirteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul, one epistle of the same [writer] to the Hebrews, two Epistles of the Apostle Peter, three of John, one of James, one of Jude, one book of the Apocalypse of John. Let this be made known also to our brother and fellow-priest Boniface, or to other bishops of those parts, for the purpose of confirming that Canon. Because we have received from our fathers that those books must be read in the Church. Let it also be allowed that the Passions of Martyrs be read when their festivals are kept."

We of course have lots of examples even earlier in history of these seven books being quoted as Scripture, even in the New Testament. 

So why not at least have a working knowledge of these books Protestant brothers and sisters ?  Even if you don't add it back into your Bibles, let's encourage the reading of these important  and historic books. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Should Christians have to suffer?

Are Christians meant to suffer? If one looks at the Bible they will find, countless examples of suffering, first and foremost being the story of Job.  Job was a man who had it all; family, friends, wealth, prosperity, righteousness, honor, respect, land, etc....  One day it was all taken from him, and the culmination of the story can be found in Chapters 38 onward, when God calls Job out.  Job who laments on his misfortunes and never denounces God, but instead asserts an injustice based on his righteousness.  His young friend Elihu addresses this becoming angry with Job for justifying himself rather than God (32:3).

I was first introduced to Job in a "Problem of Evil" class in college.  There is so much to be said on Job, but the thing that stands out most to me is how countercultural the story of Job is to "the American Dream" .  Much of this story is lost in America particularly, but most of our modern society.  We are taught to strive for wealth and power and "the pursuit of happiness".  We have the Olsteens of the world and prosperity preachers teaching that "God's friends are highly favored" (in their words the righteous are made rich and powerful and the sinners are punished).

When will we open the books of scripture and do away with such nonsense?  When will we stop being Job's friends who assumed that Job was not righteous due to his suffering?  When will we begin to see that God's world is anything but this world.  That the American Dream and Christian living are not synonyms?  When will we begin to find strength in our sufferings as individuals, as communities, and even nations?

Why do we feel so alone in our sufferings?  I believe the answer is because we divorce God from suffering.  We have the mindset that if I am suffering, then God is not there.  This is based on nothing but heresy and the enemy.  Did not our savior, Jesus Christ endure the greatest of sufferings?  Shall we say that it follows that he deserved it? That he was unrighteous? That he was worthless?

Or do we see that tremendous grace and strength that came from that suffering and join our own to it?

Romans 8:16 For the Spirit himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the sons of God. 17 And if sons, heirs also; heirs indeed of God, and joint heirs with Christ: yet so, if we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him.

How does such verse fit into our thoughts today?  Do we glance over it, instead focusing on "God's blessings" of material gains?  The church has long been home to suffering servants.  Most of them are now called Saints.  Some quotes from just a few of them:

As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.
--St. Madeline Sophie Barat

If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.
--Saint Ignatius of Loyola

'When it is all over you will not regret having suffered; rather you will regret having suffered so little, and suffered that little so badly.'
--St. Sebastian Valfre

"I do not desire to die soon, because in Heaven there is no suffering. I desire to live a long time because I yearn to suffer much for the love of my Spouse."
--St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi

You will be consoled according to the greatness of your sorrow and affliction; the greater the suffering, the greater will be the reward.  
--St. Mary Magdalen de'Pazzi

For my heart is always with Him, day and night it thinks unceasingly of its heavenly and divine Friend, to whom it wants to prove its affection. Also within it arises this desire: not to die, but to suffer long, to suffer for God, to give Him its life while praying for poor sinners. 
--Bl Elizabeth of the Trinity

If God sends you many sufferings, it is a sign that He has great plans for you and certainly wants to make you a saint.
--St. Ignatius Loyola

The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.
--St. John of the Cross

One must not think that a person who is suffering is not praying. He is offering up his sufferings to God, and many a time he is praying much 
more truly than one who goes away by himself and meditates his head off, and, if he has squeezed out a few tears, thinks that is prayer. 
--St. Teresa of Avila 

Blessed be He, Who came into the world for no other purpose than to suffer.
--St. Teresa of Avila 

We of course should also take note of how many saints suffered greatly in their lives.  Many afflicted with illnesses, persecutions, different situations. 

St Therese de Lisieux "The little flower" was a young nun of the 19th century who died at the young age of 24. She suffered with illness most of her life and had many struggles.  She is known for her little way of finding Jesus in everyday things including suffering.  If she had a pain she gave it up to Christ, if she had trials within the convent, she gave it up to Christ.   She chose to reflect Christ in her little things.  It was not necessary to find some grandiose act of charity.  Charity could be found in our daily struggles and our daily encounters with others.  It was this "Little Way" that has made St. Therese a doctor of the Church, and one of who is spoken of today, despite her seemingly insignificance at the time. 

This is all easier said then done.  I have suffered immensely in my life, and I know many others who have even more than I.  It is not fun or easy, it is hard and painful, but what we do with the suffering is what brings us freedom from it. 

It is time to take back suffering.  As hard as it is, as painful as it is, it is not something to run from.  It is not something that we condemn or look down our noses at another as if they have failed.  It is an OPPORTUNITY to love .  An opportunity to love Christ and show love to others. An opportunity to open ourselves to God who is completely good and desires our good.  

The next time we decide to assert our own plans and selves before God, I ask that we remember the hope we hear from St. Paul and St. James; 

Romans 5:3-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

James 1:2-4 

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

As well as God's response to Job in Chapter 38, for his ways are far beyond are own.

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said:
“Who is this that obscures my plans
    with words without knowledge?
Brace yourself like a man;
    I will question you,
    and you shall answer me.
“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?
    Tell me, if you understand.
Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!
    Who stretched a measuring line across it?
On what were its footings set,
    or who laid its cornerstone
while the morning stars sang together
    and all the angels[a] shouted for joy?
“Who shut up the sea behind doors
    when it burst forth from the womb,
when I made the clouds its garment
    and wrapped it in thick darkness,
10 when I fixed limits for it
    and set its doors and bars in place,
11 when I said, ‘This far you may come and no farther;
    here is where your proud waves halt’?
12 “Have you ever given orders to the morning,
    or shown the dawn its place,
13 that it might take the earth by the edges
    and shake the wicked out of it?
14 The earth takes shape like clay under a seal;
    its features stand out like those of a garment.
15 The wicked are denied their light,
    and their upraised arm is broken.
16 “Have you journeyed to the springs of the sea
    or walked in the recesses of the deep?
17 Have the gates of death been shown to you?
    Have you seen the gates of the deepest darkness?
18 Have you comprehended the vast expanses of the earth?
    Tell me, if you know all this.
19 “What is the way to the abode of light?
    And where does darkness reside?
20 Can you take them to their places?
    Do you know the paths to their dwellings?
21 Surely you know, for you were already born!
    You have lived so many years!
22 “Have you entered the storehouses of the snow
    or seen the storehouses of the hail,
23 which I reserve for times of trouble,
    for days of war and battle?
24 What is the way to the place where the lightning is dispersed,
    or the place where the east winds are scattered over the earth?
25 Who cuts a channel for the torrents of rain,
    and a path for the thunderstorm,
26 to water a land where no one lives,
    an uninhabited desert,
27 to satisfy a desolate wasteland
    and make it sprout with grass?
28 Does the rain have a father?
    Who fathers the drops of dew?
29 From whose womb comes the ice?
    Who gives birth to the frost from the heavens
30 when the waters become hard as stone,
    when the surface of the deep is frozen?
31 “Can you bind the chains[b] of the Pleiades?
    Can you loosen Orion’s belt?
32 Can you bring forth the constellations in their seasons[c]
    or lead out the Bear[d] with its cubs?
33 Do you know the laws of the heavens?
    Can you set up God’s[e] dominion over the earth?
34 “Can you raise your voice to the clouds
    and cover yourself with a flood of water?
35 Do you send the lightning bolts on their way?
    Do they report to you, ‘Here we are’?
36 Who gives the ibis wisdom[f]
    or gives the rooster understanding?[g]
37 Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?
    Who can tip over the water jars of the heavens
38 when the dust becomes hard
    and the clods of earth stick together?
39 “Do you hunt the prey for the lioness
    and satisfy the hunger of the lions
40 when they crouch in their dens
    or lie in wait in a thicket?
41 Who provides food for the raven
    when its young cry out to God
    and wander about for lack of food?

So just as Job was not there for all that, nor us, we must hold perspective and understand that our world is so much bigger than ourselves.  Stepping outside of the control we are taught to hold over everything, and placing trust in God and in the larger story of the universe and existence is where true freedom is found.