Friday, January 24, 2014

CCC, 2352

I am not certain that God is in fact calling me to write about this section, but it's one of the citations that I have memorized. You probably don't do it, but maybe you know a guy or girl. A friend who happens to be an atheist asked me where Jesus talks about this, and this was my answer, with apologies to those brethren of ours that wouldn't cite the Catechism per se as the words of Jesus, even indirectly. Lots of things seem good, or at least neutral, but they are not. In fact, part of the allure of sin is that it involves choosing an apparent good instead of the true Good, which is God. Very few things are entirely devoid of goodness in any way, and that's why the Fall was awful; we desire goodness, but now we are inclined to flee from it, and we're fairly adept at choosing the wrong thing, or the right thing at the wrong time, left to ourselves.

Anyway, God doesn't want us to do it, because He loves us, and there are no trick questions on God's exams. I know a guy who told me what this is like, when you are deep into it; "addict" is the right word; you can't plan, you can't function; all you care about is the next "hit." If this is you, and you're Catholic, if you will pardon the levity, we have an app for that. Go to the Box, as we call it, as many times as you need; pray, beg God and the saints for help to be stronger when these particular flaming arrows come at you.

You are not dirt; you are not unlovable; your life is not a waste, even if you sin. Satan discourages; God loves, and simply knocks on the door. And He never stops. Everyone has something that fills them with deep shame. Maybe this is your thing. Maybe it's something else. But whatever it is, God loves you infinitely more than you do, more than any of us can imagine.

A P.S. To The Last

I wanted to openly say in my last post that the part about Jesus wanting to perpetuate the sacrifice of the Cross really does trip the Reformation antennae that I still have, and God-willing, will never lose. When I stated the objection previously, I don't do it for the easy pickings; I want you to understand that I think the "once for all" objection to the theology of our Eucharistic faith is a good objection, one that I myself made. Let me belabor the point: I'm sympathetic to that objection; frankly, I'm sympathetic to the whole bloody Reformed faith, if you will pardon the pun. I do not consider myself to have renounced having been Reformed, insofar as it is true. In fact, if you are Reformed, everything we could disagree about is in that "insofar." You are talking to a man who loved and still loves everything about it...insofar. I'm sure Bouyer was the same way. Are you kidding me? I've loved so deeply, it's a wonder that I haven't died. If you didn't know, then I failed you, and I ask your forgiveness.

I really like Dr. Peter Leithart's insights (and those of others) as they endeavor to create (or recover) a more rooted, richer non-Catholicism. But that's just it: You're going to find Britain, to borrow a phrase from Uncle Gilbert. Maybe you don't even want to; I totally get that. But you will. It's not cheap apologetics, or manipulation; it's just the truth. And it's rooted in the reality of the one God in three Persons, and uniquely Him who became incarnate as our Savior. We are inevitably moving either toward doubt, alienation, fragmentation, atheism, and death, or toward Christ and His Church. As we enter more deeply into the work of recovery, we are actively opposing--doubtless unwittingly at first--the individualist principle intrinsic to the Protestant revolt.

I find it highly appealing, mind you. If I have sharply criticized any of its leading lights on these pages, it is not because I harbor animus, but rather the reverse. I do not want those who have greatly helped me to be like the man who has slammed right into the spiritual house of the Catholic Church--his own house--but continues to insist against all evidence that he has done so. He may well be a brilliant mind, a great ecclesial and theological John Nash, if I may, but he is alone, alienated by his idiosyncrasy, and charmed by his own cleverness.

I know this: Everything the Church calls "the motives of credibility"--the reasons to believe--is charged with the love of the Incarnate Word, who walked, lived, and died for us. Indeed, He ever lives! This is why I can say in full honesty that moving from Reformed to Catholic is not, and never will be, outright rejection of the former. Just call us Calvin's Catholics, for that is what we are.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

CCC, 1323

Wait, what? I'm not gonna go word-by-word this time, frankly, because I'm not that good of a theologian. On the other hand, considering the depth of the riches of the mystery* of the Eucharist, who is? Are you kidding? Question 1: Wait a minute, Sparky. (And yes, I will answer to this. When the time comes, I will also answer to "Dr. Sparky.") How is this celebration/sacrament/ordinance a sacrifice, when Christ has died once-for-all, as the Scripture teaches (Hebrews 9:11-13, 26)? Great question. In layman's terms, there is no time. In the sacrifice of our redemption, Christ is both Victim and Priest. That which is true of that sacrifice is true of this one. Christ would not, and cannot, consent to dying again without denigrating what has already been accomplished. So, whatever the person who is acting in the person of Christ the Head is doing, he can't deny Calvary, because Christ is ever-obedient to the Father; he'd be the last to deny it! But this is the meaning: if it serves the glory of the Father, and the salvation of us his brethren, He can bring the Cross to us. He did say, "After I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself." John 12:34. This IS Calvary, for all time, every time. Look at 1 Corinthians 11:26. I'm here to tell you without getting hyper-technical that the Greek here is truly creepy. Probably another translation of our words, "For as often as" here in the English RSV (and a better one) is, "Each time you do this..." Moreover, "you proclaim" is present tense, active indicative, and this means that it's perfectly reasonable to translate it all, "Each time you do this, you are proclaiming the Lord's death until He comes." Let that sit for a minute. We are not simply ones who remember; we live as the eschatological People of God, for whom all God's redemptive acts are present to us as if we were there. Because in a true sense, we are. Especially in this greatest act. This is why St. Paul says to the Corinthians slightly prior, "The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?  Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.  Consider the practice of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar?" (1 Cor 10:16-18) While keeping in mind that the New Covenant mysteries/sacraments have a greater efficacy than those of the Old (Laus tibi, Domine!), do recall Exodus 12:14: "This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as an ordinance for ever." To be direct, the only way the LORD keeps this promise is in the Eucharist. John 6:51-58. In any case, our "forever" is bounded only by "until He comes." Then we shall eat, and rejoice and see, with no veil or sign.

How can He save us, how can we eat and not die, if Christ is not present as true priest and victim? We do not, and cannot eat the food of eternal life merely by remembering; Christ must be there, and he must give himself to us. It's deep, but it's not hard.

*Biblically speaking, "mystery" means, "Wow, that is deep and unsearchable!" but it also means something like, "This is a truth of God's wise plan that was once hidden, but is now revealed." So, sacraments are indeed very special.

Actually, Jesus Does Bend To Our Will

Because all the promises of the New Covenant, especially the sacraments, are sworn with an oath, an oath God swore to Himself. Yes, I understand that it may seem "mechanistic" to you, but not to us. We only see Love. I sympathize with those who deny the sacramental system even exists, but once more, disputes between Christians concerning this are not chiefly over the content of revelation, but its meaning. That is, it is a liturgical dispute. This is why the Catholic brings the discussion back to authority, because all are agreed in general that the fullness of revelation is in Christ. What is authority, but the power to determine--under Christ--what the proper response to what God has revealed is and will be? In a word, liturgy.

You are troubled that we dare say a man is able to call Christ down from Heaven in the Eucharist? Good! Perhaps the boldness with which we say it will cause you to question your own authority to believe and teach otherwise, especially in the very Name by which we also come. You say that we deny His sovereignty; I say that you hide your denial of human agency in the cloak of that sovereignty. If you wish to inquire, then inquire; if you wish to accost and scoff, there are many more like you, and we don't pay them any heed. Did Christ Himself say, "The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many"? Why would it be any less so now?

Whatever his errors, Fr. O'Brien now knows them all, in the sleep of death. Lord, have mercy!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Galatians 2:15

This is the verse that will mess with your paradigm. One verse, and it basically vindicates the heart of what we used to call the "New Perspective On Paul": A good first century Jew was no sort of legalist. To the text! I'm going to include verse 16, and comment on other verses, as well:

"We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, 16 yet who know that a man is not justified[a] by works of the law[b] but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified." (Gal. 2:15-16, RSV) 

He's talking to his fellow Jews here, and he's synthesizing what he knows from the Old Testament with what Christ gave him. Jesus must have believed it was graciously possible for anyone who read or heard the Scriptures up to that point to receive Him; otherwise, why come at all? To say nothing of his frustration at the lack of faith he finds. And here's the big key: Most of Jesus' audience, and most of St. Paul's, is Jewish. So, when he says, "works of the Law," we've got to read that how they would have read it: as referring to the ceremonies with which they were all familiar. What exactly is wrong with Jesus' opponents in the New Testament? Not that they followed rules, but that they understood their faith and redemptive history in such a way as to reject Jesus. And this has a practical application, friends: Rules without the gracious context of redemption are empty and useless. Remember what St. John told us in his Gospel: "He came to his own, but his own did not receive him." We've got to be clear on this very point: The Pharisees and others didn't simply reject Jesus and His New Covenant; they twisted the Old one, also. That twisting has a legalistic thrust, to be sure, because outside of God's grace, legalism will be all you have.

What implication does this have for Romans 3? A huge one. Frankly, Luther had no idea what the text really said. Your key verse there is Romans 3:29. Read that about 5 times, and realize that he's saying the same thing he's saying here: Salvation is not just for the Jews! It never really was. And this means that we've got to have the New Testament faith/works discussion in the real context of the New Testament, not in that of Luther's prejudice and theological reductionism. N.T. Wright may not like the implications of his work, but the truth is, the Protestant Reformation was built on Luther's prejudice and theological reductionism. Clearing that away is bound to have ecclesial implications.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Snark Bite!

5. I can't stand people who speak provocatively just to stir things up. Oh, wait.

4. I can understand that faith is not the end result of the cumulative probabilities. On the other hand, in deciding to submit to the Catholic Church, faith seemed to scoff at the exceedingly improbable alternatives. Careful and prudent investigation is in order.

3. Is it funny that candy has nutrition facts on the side, or do I define the word too narrowly for cheap laughs?

2. I don't really care that foot-long subs are 5 dollars at Subway, or that their food gets kudos from doctors; I eat it because it tastes good. On the other hand, I think Nastia Liukin can sell me anything.

1. I was going to say that I love sports, but that isn't fully accurate. If two sides are competing for anything, I'm very likely to watch it.

I Think Dr. King Would Like The Huxtables

Actually, he'd have liked a good chunk of mainstream black TV. Some person with a grudge, or who has a passionate need to defend progressivism, AKA institutionalized bitterness, will point out that they were fictional, and besides, they were upper-middle class. Fine. But they couldn't be portrayed unless people like them existed somewhere. I don't recall ever thinking they were fabulously wealthy, anyway. With a lawyer and a doctor, you could figure, but it appeared to be New York. That isn't the cheapest place to live. In fact, their house looked a lot like the ones I grew up in. It's beside the point, though. The point is, Dr. King would have loved that all kinds of people embraced this fictional family who happened to be black. They were us, in all the ways that are good. You say there is much work to be done, and that colorblindness isn't necessarily possible, and may not be desirable. I agree, as far as it goes. But he had a good dream, a dream worth fighting for and not giving up on, just because it's hard or costly.

There was a hard edge to King, and we lose it sometimes, because he is no longer a man, but an icon. He protected us, he shepherded us, especially us white people, the sons of privilege. He actually fought for justice--something that is owed--but this gets lost, because he loved so greatly. Many of us love and revere him for this, but the truth remains: we owe black America a debt. It's not for any of us to feel bad about ourselves or others, but instead to acknowledge that we may still benefit in all kinds of ways because we are white, and to try to share that privilege if we can. (Because obviously, we can't change our skin, among other things.)

It's all new to me, really. But I know that we're getting closer. We're getting closer, because "I Have A Dream" still moves me. That table of brotherhood sounds like it's worth fighting for. If we don't see it in this nation or in this life, I know that a Jewish carpenter's son gave His life to bring it about in the one to come. I know for sure Dr. King could get behind that.

Let freedom ring!

Dear God...

Will you give me a little grace to be more like her? I need to hire someone to post Cry Warnings on my News Feed.

P.S. What?

I may be an idiot, but not only is it false to say the Church teaches that an atheist can get into Heaven, but it should be absurd on its face. Heaven is Heaven because God is there. Well, it's not a place; it's the Beatific Vision, seeing the face of God, and resting in His Divine presence. If you didn't believe He existed, you wouldn't want Heaven, because Heaven presupposes that which you deny. Why I needed to state that blindingly obvious point, Ben Carmack and Tim Dukeman, I have no idea. Even if Pope Francis actually said that atheists could go to Heaven, he'd be obviously incorrect, and we could at least quietly chortle at him, no?

CCC, 847

Wait, what? Let's define terms, shall we? "through no fault of their own"=their ignorance is not culpable. "Gospel of Christ"=the catholic (or Catholic) and apostolic faith in its entirety, concerning Christ the Savior of all mankind. "or "His Church"=Catholic Church. "nevertheless seek God"--let me humbly suggest that someone who knowingly seeks God is not is in any way an atheist. I don't need to define "atheist" for you, I trust, but just in atheist is a person who denies that God exists. Hebrews 11:6. "sincere heart"=a good disposition of the will, which will be a difficult definition to accept, if one has accepted that contrary proposition that a person prior to justification is capable of having a good will, but there we are. "moved by grace"--I told you we weren't Pelagians. "try in their actions to do his will as they know it"=responding to the promptings of grace. "through the dictates of conscience"=in Catholic moral theology, a certain conscience cannot be disobeyed without incurring sin, even if that conscience is badly misinformed. (One of God's mercies is to sow doubts in the conscience for this reason. When in doubt, do not act.) If you firmly believe the holy day is Tuesday and not Sunday, and you skip Tuesday for a frivolous reason, you're guilty of the grave sin of missing Mass, for example, even though that seems silly.

In other words, the Catholic Church does not teach that an atheist can go to Heaven. Sorry. We do believe that atheists receive and are able to accept graces from God. Try not to die. But they won't be atheists very long, we would think.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

And Then I Laugh

Sometimes you hear less than observant Catholics who want to attempt to live in mortal sin complain about their "Catholic guilt". I say what every ex-Reformed person is thinking automatically: "You don't know what 'guilt' means, brother."

We used to make stuff up to feel bad about. I don't care if you think that's unfair; it's true. I'm a real sinner, not just a theoretical one, but even so, I actually understand why Jesus said his yoke was easy, much better now as a son of the Church.

The reason I get into firm discussions with a good buddy over sanctification is because our definition of what the average Christian would think and do is so different. Our catechesis has been so poor in some places that I'm still stunned by how wrong people can go. It doesn't seem reasonable to me. My buddy seems like a rigorist at times, but the truth is that the members of the Church have gained no comparative advantage over others, and I may be optimistic.

"Catholic guilt"? Ha!

Beauty And Brutality

Perhaps "brutality" is a strong word here, but football is a tough game. It's gritty and costly, and usually painful. On the other hand, there is a big-picture artistry about it that few sports match. I've always said that people who say football players and fans are stupid are short-sighted; there is an underlying logic to the game that some of the nation's keenest minds have mastered. The great Peyton Manning has led his team to the Super Bowl once more. When this legend finally steps aside from the quarterback position, it will likely be only because his body has betrayed him.

Today, we actually saw two legends in the same game, and both have reached the second half of their 30s. Tom Brady, a golden boy who led his Patriots to a Super Bowl victory in his rookie season in 2001--and was victorious in two others, while losing in 2 Super Bowls also--always seems to be knocking at the door. At 36, there are more sporting days behind than ahead, but even the casual fan should count the days remaining as a privilege.

Manning is the prototype, the model for this era of what a quarterback is: a physically gifted tactician who wins by out-thinking and out-matching his adversaries. Brett Favre was the warrior, the reckless wild card you wanted on your side to pull out a tight one. Manning is in many ways the anti-Favre: there's nothing "backyard" about his game. On the other hand, it is almost certain that most of Favre's records will belong one day to Manning. Also, if Peyton ever thought about it in an unguarded moment, he'd probably resent the notion he isn't as tough as Favre, and isn't as universally loved (at least right now). But part of that is the price of being drafted #1, of being Archie Manning's son, of playing on dominant teams at every level. Even now, in terms of wins and losses in the postseason, his record stands at 10-11. I've criticized him and rooted against him the whole way. Sooner or later though, someone is going to say, "How good do you have to be, just to play in that many meaningful games?"

Favre the Gunslinger got more slack than he deserved, because he added to his great skill the distinction of being the Cal Ripken of his sport, starting every game for better than 18 years. Truthfully though, we haven't given Manning enough. If he wins a second championship on February 2, the revision of his story will happen very quickly, long before he walks away. I'll be the first to help.