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Friday, January 23, 2015

Why Does Jesus Say Crazy Things?

We'll just take one example, shall we? "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away..." No way! Better yet, "Whoever does not hate his father and mother is not worthy of me." What? Huh?

And like any good Bible readers (and good former Protestants, I might say) we might remind ourselves that context is king, idioms, yada, yada, etc. Even then, a ton of what Jesus says sounds like a press conference on an airplane back from Manila. [You just could not stop yourself, could you?--ed.] No.

In any case, there is a mixture of missing context and hidden mysticism that helps to make sense of Jesus in the Gospels. Let's explore a few of those things.

1. Missing Jew-Gentile background/the economy of salvation: This might be the biggest one. We can read the Old Testament many times even, but it's much different to live within it, to breathe in the air of the covenant, to see the judgment and mercy fall upon the people, your people. In any case, everything Jesus said presupposes this context. The right posture then and now is to realize that Israel was in exile, both literally by the Babylonians, and spiritually, because they had been chastised by those events, and had yet to experience the abundance prophesied by Jeremiah and others, both material, and spiritual, via communion with God. The people who missed the boat (Pharisees and Sadducees) essentially wanted to disregard all this. They believed that if they simply made the best of it--exalting the Law of Moses and excluding the unsavory parts of the prophets, or collaborating with their conquerors--they could make a workable life. Leave it to God to send a prophet to mess all that up. And He will.

2. Jesus is a prophet: That's not all He is, of course. But Jesus is not less. Prophets say crazy things, for two reasons, essentially: 1. To tell us the future, and/or the present, and 2. to give us God's perspective of whatever is happening, or going to happen. It's easier to understand once we have the whole picture, which, depending on where you are sitting, is not obvious.

3. The New Covenant is more glorious, but it's harder. ("You have heard it said...but I say to you...") We're plucking our eyes out and throwing them away (metaphorically) if we have to because in Christ, there is no real uncertainty about who we are, and what we do. There's no one left to wait for (except Him, again), and God expects those who see the whole glorious plan not to behave as though we're in the book of Genesis, chapter 4. On the other hand, Jesus says, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light." I think the only way he can say this is because he knows how much mercy he is giving through the Church. In the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, we can draw as close to Christ as we desire! Anything we need pardon for, He is ready and willing to forgive. Any grace we need to do what He commands, we may have. We have only to ask. But we know when that last judgment falls, we'd better be ready.

If it's still crazy, you could always ask Jesus. Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you whatever is necessary for you to understand. P.S. John's Gospel, while direct in its appeal, is easily the deepest, strangest one. Just bear that in mind.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

I Love The Pope

First off, I'm Catholic. Which should make this title obvious, but it isn't. We should love the Pope as Catholics because he is the shepherd that Christ has given us for this earthly journey for a season. It's a huge mercy to us. Frankly, very little I've found has tested my faith like the interregnum. I relate to the pope naturally as a son to a father. That's exactly what he is, and how we should think of him.

I have my own personal reasons for feeling more deeply about that than others might. But you need to understand me: I cannot even fathom praying reluctantly, or through gritted teeth, for the Holy Father. The very idea of it sounds absurd.

We've all become too political, and dare I say, American, about the Church. Some "traditionalists" seem to dissect the Holy Father's words as if it were a State of the Union, and he's Barack Obama. Well, it isn't, and he isn't. We owe the Holy Father a great deal more deference, in fact. "Progressives" do go on that this or that will change, or should. Nothing new there.

If Pope Francis is like any of the good holy priests I've known, he expects Catholics to know and believe their catechisms. We may unleash our Frown-Beams of Concern over how naive this may be in any one case, but doesn't that show us our own great need for conversion? He might be acquainted with sin and sinners, but he doesn't treat that as normative or good. Nor should he.

Tell me, alleged "traditionalists," why do you treat a man with 50-odd years of experience in pastoral ministry like a catechumen? He has a role to play in the New Evangelization, but he's not going to fill yours, too.

We shouldn't even call it that, though. It should be called "The New Catechesis," for that is actually the true task, most times. It's easier to draw lines and complain about the Other than to admit we have failed to preach the gospel to our own.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

It's Never "Pastoral" To Disregard The Church In Order To "Love" Someone

Blog post over. But seriously. The big question is this: "What are you shepherding them toward?" I agree with Rebecca Hamilton, essentially, that the Catholic Church is the true home for one-footed lesbians with face tattoos. Furthermore, if Jesus bothers to show up at all, we've largely won at life that day. I say "largely," though, because experiencing friendship with God means, at some point, recognizing that God is calling someone to drop the "lesbian", and if you are the person who is the instrument of that message, Love compels you to deliver it. Rome wasn't built in a day, but it was built.

It is true that I should not waste my time judging people over liturgical abuses, errors, perceived substandard dress, etc. It's also true that none of us should accept where we are in that moment, simply because God has chosen to be mercifully present. The "mercifully" of itself indicates that our journey is not complete.

Which means practically that we do whatever the GIRM says to do, as much as we are able. It's not rigid to insist upon it; it's prudent. The Church is God's own instrument, as a means of our salvation, and its end, insofar as we experience communion with Him, and each other. If you believe the Holy Spirit talks to you, but obviously not the guys in the funny hats, you've missed the boat.

So yes, the liturgy is bad. It's bad because we accept "good enough" so we can personally feel non-judgy. And a note on His Eminence Cardinal Burke: he did not criticize women; he criticized feminism. There is a huge difference.

Permission To Speak Freely

I don't know Peter Green that well; he was a TA in my Covenant Theology class when I was a student at The Old School. He's smart, and he was always friendly to me. So let me say that before anything else. Let me also add that we enthusiastically resisted together any attempts to burn Peter Leithart at the stake in those days, though sooner or later, Peter is going to have to give a good answer to the Catholic challenge. Say this for the Anglicans: their conceit of believing they are still (physically) part of the church catholic has a surface plausibility more convincing than anything he's offered. I digress.

Peter Green, meanwhile, hasn't been pleased since I became Catholic. I've been pretty vocal about it, to be sure. As actually one should expect any real Catholic to be.* But I'm not polemically the gentlest sort, and I know that. If there is fault, I'll take it.

I've got to wonder out loud, though: Doesn't Peter Green have a vested, personal interest in sowing as much doubt about whether there is in fact one Catholic position on anything? After all, if there isn't one, he can go on his merry way, believing what he will, and he can chuckle at the "real Catholics," who actually believe all that One True Church stuff. It's only when the Catholic Church has the ability to distinguish dogma from opinion, and dissent from faith, that one comes to realize that one is truly being stalked by the Hound of Heaven, and he's wearing the successor of Peter's funny hat while he does it.

Why wouldn't they tell us that the Roman Catholic Church, the home of about a billion Christians, who, oh, by the way, believes it is the Church Christ founded, believes Mark's Gospel ends after v. 20, and the case is closed? Isn't that at least relevant, before telling us the reason we believe it should have ended after v. 8? Then again, we didn't have a super-great answer as to why we weren't Catholic. It was essentially, "Sola Scriptura...because Borgia popes." If you're too intellectually honest about it all, you become Catholic. I hate it when that happens.

If the lack of an ancient (of a certain age) manuscript containing verses 9-20 is enough to override the presumption that the sacred text we had received is the one God wanted us to have, it seems to me we have allowed rationalism to stand in judgment of revealed truth. That's a heck of a lot more alarming than the prospect of becoming Catholic, for certain.

*real Catholic: someone who believes the Catholic Church is the one Christ founded, and accepts all that she teaches without exception, because it has been revealed by God.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Ask And You Shall Receive, Mr. Dillon

Richard Marx is on in the background, so if I make sappy emotional appeals, don't say I didn't warn you.

Textual criticism, as with hermeneutics itself, has to be limited by something. The great difficulty with anything in this Protestant realm is in fact distinguishing human opinion from divine revelation. It had been the basic "liberal" contention that all manner of traditional interpretations, whether dogmatic or moral, were actually human inventions. Thus, the first step in rejecting any view had been to show that it had human contact points. On the other hand, one could embrace those contact points, and under the guise of fully respecting the context into which God spoke, reject whatever one wanted.

But what was traditional came from somewhere. To accept the Catholic Church's authority is not to presuppose its divine origin; it is merely to realize that the word of the Lord belongs to the People of God. And they have been as real, as tangible as the Incarnate Word himself. It's always been that way. The assertion to the contrary has always rather conveniently followed a separation from that People.

The only good reason to accept anything as dogma is that God has revealed it, and God cannot lie. Dogma cannot be revised, or changed. Nothing in that realm is subject to human refutation or challenge. This must include the canon of the Sacred Scriptures; they are either breathed out by God, or not. If the People of God have received the Gospel according to St. Mark up to and including verse 20, quite frankly, who am I to argue?

The teaching authority of the Catholic Church tends to say that the rule of faith allows for numerous valid interpretations of any one text. The hermeneutical methods are bounded by that teaching authority. This is one reason why that authority is living; books--even God-breathed ones--don't talk.

What does the Bible actually say, on the questions that matter? This is why I couldn't just "live with the tension" or the "inexact science" of criticism or hermeneutics; we're talking eternal life and death here; if we haven't been, we should all go home. We either have to pretend that a unity exists when it doesn't, or we have to commit the blasphemy of calling the Holy Spirit a liar.

"Classic Christian orthodoxy" or some other (ad hoc) makeshift heuristic,--to our great benefit--actually refers in way or another to some dogmatic determination of the Catholic Church. We just have to decide if that's the work of God, or fluky coincidence. For my part, it added up to a few too many fluky coincidences, especially when claiming to believe in a God who is faithfulness and Love.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

If secular liberals had saints, he'd be one. And well-deserved, at that. I think that much of the dissatisfaction with King in some quarters is because activists have strayed from what was his baseline: The fundamental dignity of all human persons. It explains literally everything he said or did as a public figure.

Commentators are right to say that we cannot divorce him from his Christian conviction, but it's more than that. We should say that the dignity of all persons only emerges from the Christian doctrine of creation, and reaches its fullest flower in the redemptive intent of the Incarnation. It's not enough to say he was shaped by the Christian worldview; we must stop and reflect on how it has shaped us through him.

He's always been a hero of mine, along with William Jennings Bryan and others, because he understood that the spiritual and the temporal really have one end: God. That scares some people; they need to be scared.