Saturday, November 01, 2014

What Is "Pastoral Theology," Anyway?

You hear a lot about how we need to be "pastoral" these days. What does it mean? Well, first know that the root of the word means "shepherd" in the language(s) from whence it came. At the most basic level in theology, being "pastoral" means to shepherd people toward God, who loves all of us more than we do.

The problem is that some people think "pastoral" means that we should hide the truth, or excuse sin, because the life God calls us to is too "hard" for some people. Or that our revealed truths are nice in theory, but not in practice. I couldn't imagine anything more wrong, or ultimately, more hateful.

Still others think that being "pastoral" is a cowardly set of actions, seeming to forget that our God will punish all evil and sin that has not been pardoned with unquenchable fire in the pit of Hell. They believe that we should simply preach the Catechism, and admonish whoever we find the same way: "You're probably on the way to perdition for these reasons, and moreover, Catechism XXXX says...etc."

Firstly, God really is Love. "A great high priest, whose name is Love, who ever lives and pleads for me," as the mostly-true hymn says. We can't even possibly belabor this point; there is no way. I'm getting emotional just thinking about it. The most unchanging and most important truth in the entire cosmos is that one. God is Love. Sit with that awhile; ponder the ways and times that you do not believe it. These are the places that God needs to touch, to heal. Out of our unbelief flows our sins; out of His mercy flows our hope and salvation. I think most of the preachers of judgment today have no real idea of this Love. True love and concern for souls would rather sacrifice one's own place in Heaven than see others judged: "For I myself wish that I could be cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren..." says St. Paul. Do you really hear this from people? I confess, I don't love this way. Not even close. But it's a thing to which I aspire, by God's grace.

Secondly, what if you didn't know anything? Sure, you might be a rambling crazy-face, with an intuitive notion that things you've done and things done to you were subhuman some way. You might even yearn for better. But I'm guessing that at some early point you would have no idea where to even begin. What's a catechism? What's "hypostatic union"? Who is Moses, and most importantly, why does any of it matter?

Believe it or not, not all of us come equipped with theology degrees; we don't toss out fancy words, on the whole. We're just people. And now it's time for the definition. Get ready.

Pastoral theology is the science of translating the truths of God into words that can not only be understood, but so that the saving communion between God and each person can be cultivated. God desires to live in us, and through us, but no two are the same. If you speak the same way to everyone, not only will you not be understood, but the seed of God will not grow in some hearts. You will make copies of yourself, and not of Christ. Realizing this, I'd like to hear why some of you don't see a need to be "pastoral".

They say that the most recent Council was a "pastoral Council". What does that mean? I'll tell you. It means the bishops and the Holy Father(s) realized that all of humanity had become clueless, rambling crazy-faces, falling into a bottomless pit of sin and ignorance. You don't boom Thou Shalt Nots from the mountain in a situation like that. You've got to put everybody on the Rock, put up a picnic table, and start from the beginning. If you love people, that's what you do. The Grand Story hasn't gone anywhere; it hasn't changed. But we've changed. We've gone after the lost sheep, no matter how dark it gets, and how long it takes.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Dear Everybody, The "Sacramental Treadmill" Is Awesome

You hear that a lot. "Catholicism has people running on a sacramental treadmill, never knowing if God loves them, and if they are saved." I confess, I can't beat up on you too bad, because I thought this, too. I'm sure Jerry Bridges is an awesome dude; many people have begun to have a relationship with Jesus through his work. The book "Transforming Grace" is where he uses the word. He should be honest, and plainly accuse the Catholic Church of whatever errors he wants to name. It's better that way.

It's in that spirit of love, frankness, and fraternal correction that I say this: I have rarely read such dangerous, heretical nonsense. But then, that's the whole Reformation in a nutshell: giving some people a false peace, by telling them Jesus forgave them at the Cross for all sin, past, present, and future, and making the rest fearful and scrupulous, first telling those people that the sacraments of the Church don't really do anything, and then telling them that the smallest sin could damn them.

I'm sorry, but not. By the way, the question behind the question: with thanks to Mark Shea: "By what authority?" I digress.

I have never lived in abject terror of God's judgment or hell-fire since I came into full communion with the Church. Romans 3:23 reads totally different to a Catholic. You know what it means? None of us here is innocent; all of us here need mercy. What is "mercy", you ask? God is Love, as a preface. Mercy is the experience of God as Love in the realization that you are a sinner. It is divine love to sinners. There is no greater fount of mercies than the sacraments of the Catholic Church.

I'm not chasing love; I'm drowning in it. In Him. The Church has a human dimension, to be sure. And members of that community of sinners aren't always so divine, me especially. But in its divine dimension, the Church truly is the Body of Christ; His hands, His feet, to carry you and me to Heaven's glory. That's why we confess to a priest: because ultimately only God can pardon us, and only His true priest lends his hands and His tongue to Jesus Christ.

I don't need or want false peace, and false assurance. The Reformed don't have any assurance, anyway.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

5 Thoughts For Today

5. Progressives can't do political humor, really. They can't laugh at themselves; always so earnest and serious.

4. If you're going to make fun of someone in a good way, you have to like them.

3. If you appreciate Rick Santorum, and his faith-based morality, calling him "Archbishop Santorum" is sort of funny; if you actually believe an evil, theocratic cloud is descending, you sound like a paranoid freak.

2. Another day it isn't Lent. WOOO!

1. We've heard a lot about "catcalls" lately; it seems to me there's a difference between being crude, and being appreciative. At least once a week, I want to say, "I'd like to get hopelessly lost somewhere with you, with no GPS." [That's because you are a directional moron. You'll marry the first girl who rescues you from starvation.--ed.] [shrugs]

Well, They Did It Again

The San Francisco Giants have won the world championship of baseball. I'm not happy about it; my praise will be grudging and sparse, and I make no apologies for that. My Cardinals were beaten by the lucky trolls, for one. And for another, just that: they were obscenely lucky. I still haven't figured out how they score runs; they don't really hit!

The ERA for the starters not named Madison Bumgarner was near 10; that's awful. The relief pitching was great, and obviously, it had to be. At this moment, I need to tell you how great Bumgarner really was, and is: he's played in 3 World Series, and he has surrendered about a quarter of a run per 9 innings over all of them. Forget winning; you're fortunate to score against him. When my profound distaste for them all wears off, I will say that it is one of the most impressive things you'll ever see in this game. He started and won games 1 and 5, and he pitched in relief 5 innings in Game 7. Two days of rest. He's the reason the Giants won, with all due respect. In one of those funny quirks of the game, the starting pitcher cannot be credited with a win unless he pitches 5 innings (among other things). In such a case, the official scorer has the discretion to decide who gets the win. It is customary that the relief pitcher who is in the game when his team takes (and holds) the lead gets it. In this case, the scorer's discretion was wisely used in awarding it to Bumgarner, though the Giants took the lead before he entered.

The other amazing thing is how little the Giants struck out. Strikeouts are extremely helpful to pitchers. In most cases, runners cannot advance when a batter strikes out. There are a myriad of ways to score on a batted ball, and pitchers know how reliant they are on their teammates behind them when that occurs. Though the relationship between winning and the raw total of strikeouts is tenuous--you can miss a lot of bats, and still lose--the occasions of strikeouts during a game can be crucial. For example, with runners on second and third, and less than 2 outs, a batted ball in play is likely to score the runner from third, even if it's not a hit. Sometimes, you just need a strikeout. The fact that the Giants rarely did is a big reason why they won.

I'm happy for Giants pitcher Tim Hudson. He labored 16 years in this game before he got even close to the World Series, and now he is a champion. A true gentleman, and a consummate professional. He leads all active pitchers in wins, with 214.

Congratulations to the Giants and their fans. You outlasted and beat this year's Team Of Destiny, (the Royals) and that is no small feat. You were not beaten by The Cardinal Way, and the best organization in baseball. You beat the team with the most wins in the National League, the Washington Nationals. You survived a one-game do-or-die with the troublesome upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, and their limitless optimist, manager Clint Hurdle. In the end, whatever I feel about it, I can't take that away.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Point Is...

At no point, to use a mathematical analogy, does 0*any number= anything but zero. So, if you have/assume not only fallible humans, but sinful ones, ecclesial communities with derivative authority (and not divinely-protected authority) and Sola Scriptura (and perspicuity, which follows necessarily from it) you must assert that the Holy Spirit protects and teaches a person as he interprets the Scriptures, if you wish to distinguish human opinion from revealed truth. At that point, and not before, does Sola Scriptura become a problem. You can see with your own eyes that there is no dogmatic agreement there; in fact, an invisible "Church" to use Newman's phrase, is a theory to account for a difficulty. The problem is, it doesn't do it very well. It's a uniquely Protestant problem, not simply a point of Catholic apologetics. The Catholic apologetic point is to say, "You can't account for the doctrinal consensus--imperfect as it is-- in a principled way, via Sola Scriptura." But understand that it's a whole other discussion.

Even if I were to completely ignore the subjectivity challenge inherent in Sola Scriptura, that is, that in appealing to Scripture, each individual is appealing to his own interpretation of them (or to that of another individual's, which the person accepts derivatively) we absolutely cannot avoid the problem articulated by Fred Noltie. Read it. Read it all. The Reformed don't feel the problem right away; I'll leave you to do some soul-searching for the reasons. I digress.

Dogmatic relativism is a necessity, if the inability to form consensus on the content of revelation persists, and conceiving of the "Church" invisibly accomplishes that goal. But it fuels the further problem of knowing specifically the content of revelation. If the Catholic Church's dogma and authority is indentifiable (and asserted to be wrong, incidentally) the realization comes that all communities formed at the Reformation diverge from the Catholic Church at different places (and with each other). The obvious conclusion is that they cannot all be right in the same way at the same time. To suggest that they could is this relativism. The challenge is this: Why should I believe anything if I cannot be certain it came from God, and thus, is infallibly certain?

Here is the funny/sad part: You hear "tribalism" on the tongues of many Reformed evangelicals today, whether they got it from Dr. Anthony Bradley or not. But given the interpretive chaos of Sola Scriptura, isn't the "tribalism" objection tantamount to saying, "You refuse to relativize dogma in the same way I do"?


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Is Ecumenical Dialogue?

It sure seems like the Church does a lot of talking. Maybe too much, some fear. What is "ecumenical dialogue" anyway? I'm defining it this way:

An ecumenical dialogue is a bilateral conversation regarding the content or application of revealed truth, principally concerned with defining terms, for the purpose of reaching agreement in that revealed truth.

Appreciation is by no means excluded. But appreciation cannot be the end of dialogue, for appreciation is a rejoicing with and in the truth.

Begging The Question

What are "heresy," "orthodoxy," and "church," anyway? If you think we need to go back to the early Church, you are unwittingly saying, "I want everyone to be members of the Catholic Church." Otherwise, you are imposing ecclesiastical authority and the doctrines they articulated in an ad hoc fashion. Realize what a unique situation this creates: you might even know the Catholic Church is the source of these truths, but refuse the rest (and the jurisdiction). To be blunt about it, such a person could not be saved. (Lumen Gentium, 14)

Most people can't be said to knowingly, willfully reject Christ and the Church in this way. They either dispute the Church's claim to be uniquely founded by Christ based on a false notion, or the data which would make the claim reasonable are presented inaccurately or incompletely.

In the most simple terms, my axioms can be summarized by two things: the faith must be received, and it must be infallible. Sola Scriptura violates both, because you can't know whether what you seem to submit to in Scripture is from the Holy Spirit, or from yourself. Or, shorter: whether you received or created the faith you profess. Infallibility is a unique characteristic of divine supernatural revelation: God cannot err, or lie. To surrender infallibility is to consent to atheism; the uniqueness of God's nature reflected in speech-acts distinguishes whatever is said from merely human opinion.

Yet wishing to preserve infallibility given Protestant assumptions (Sola Scriptura, perspicuity) causes some version of our beloved Noltie Conundrum: either my opponent (and the interpretive tradition he comes from) is not "saved," or God the Holy Spirit is lying/confused. One could intuitively decide that whatever we can't agree on isn't that important, anyway, but in that case, it isn't dogma. And practically, this is insane. This sounds good when the Papal Borg Cube is bearing down, but sooner or later, something has to matter to your eternal soul.

If "conservative" Protestantism is the selective application of Catholic authority and doctrine, then atheism is the logical end of "liberal" Protestantism's use of the human dimension to cast doubt on the divine origin of dogma.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Read Of The Day

Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes good stuff a lot. I've linked her here on the blog, as you'll see on your right-hand side. One day, she will write something I hate, but it hasn't happened yet. I guess she's on the political "Left" somewhere, but that reality just leaves me saying, "Please keep talking; I'm still listening."

I love those people!

Of Course They Called It Quits

Whatever you may feel for another impossibly sexy person while you are on "The Bachelor," it won't be the things that make a marriage. Poor Juan Pablo and Nikki; they are chasing this cultural phantom called "love," when it's really lust, or at best eros, when even that must become a self-giving love rooted in the eternity of the Kingdom of God.

I watched a season, I'll admit. Brad and Emily. I'm still mad about it. Because that little girl Emily gave birth to had a raw deal when her father died in a plane crash. This plane crash. We owe it to our kids in justice that they grow up with Mommy and Daddy who love each other. Emily obviously wants, on some level, to make the best of it. But you can't really do that on a whim, on TV.

Jesus is so good to us, He gives us grace through the Church to accomplish what we ought to do anyway, in the Sacrament of Matrimony. That's change I can believe in.

5 Thoughts For Today

5. I want to put some big speakers outside Rachel Maddow's house, and blast "Angry All The Time" by Bruce Robison. [OOOH, it's a Reverse Noriega!--ed.] A what? [You heard me. Just think about it.--ed.]

4. At the risk of objectification, she is really attractive. A guy who says, "You're beautiful when you're angry" is crazy. She might be cute when she's mildly annoyed, but true anger doesn't help anything.

3. I'm debating going back and listening to all the episodes of Drunk-Ex-Pastors, but then, I can't even be bothered to watch my Netflix shows, which I intentionally queued to watch.

2. My political crush is Christine O'Donnell. Yeah.

1. Pray for a thing I want to do. No other details.

I Believe In Indoctrination (Drunk Ex-Pastors, Episode 13)

If you don't start with something that cannot be questioned, you're a bad parent. No; I will force them to memorize things; I will have them learn it and memorize that Catechism. And the saints. Kids need things like that. Like you need to wear bike helmets.

Christian at the end starts to make sense, because he's talking about "motives of credibility." But "question everything" is dumb. No one does that, and no one should.

Alan Noble, Call Your Office!

I'm still annoyed about Derek Rishmawy's asinine Tweet from yesterday, something about Reformation Day, yay! because we don't need indulgences, blah, blah, blah. Fine, if you are moved to dissent from the Catholic Church, do it. But at least get it right: Indulgences can't grant pardon for sins. They never could. You could read whole volumes of Reformed dogmatics, but you can't survey the official Catechism of more than 1 billion Christians for 10 minutes? But I get it: It's more about putting on a good show for your friends. Well, you're on notice. I'm watching.

I hope you had a good "holy day" celebrating a divorce. How very postmodern.

Now, And At The Hour Of Our Death

It seems to me that death is all around us. It's almost absurd that we always act surprised. We do, though. Everybody's got those things, those sins, which seem like a little harmless fun. But what if you died before you finished reading this sentence? What would be the verdict of your life?

The truth is, we're all Brittany Maynard (Diaz). We're all Oscar Taveras. It invites us to ask and answer the great question in life, posed by the great American philosopher, Scott Stapp: "What's this life for?"

If you don't know, it's time to find out. We were not put here for ourselves; God put us here, to live for Him, for love of Him, and others. We don't have the right to live forever, but we have the opportunity. Jesus Christ died so that our sins may not be held against us. Ever since the message of his salvation has gone out, God has been reconciling the world to Himself in one body, the Church. The Catholic Church.

It is not enough to know that Jesus died for you; you must be baptized into His death; it must be yours. You must feed on the true Bread which came down from Heaven. When the children of God confess their sins, they know it is Christ who pardons, as it is written: "he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."

Don't waste your life. Don't waste a moment.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Breath Of Life

"You've gotta shorten your swing!" I would yell at my TV nearly every time Oscar Taveras took his swings at the plate. A good hitter needs to get his hands through the ball as quickly as possible. Pitchers love long swings; long swings have many holes. I was tough on Oscar; St. Louis has astronomically high expectations for its team and players, and he was no exception.

But in that dugout, on this team, you could see the kid grow. You know that this is the place to fail, while you learn to succeed. When you pull on that uniform, you join a huge family. Oscar is family; the wins and losses don't matter as much as playing with heart and guts. All the way to the end.

The family that lives and dies with the count and the score is reminded that at the end of the day, it's only baseball. If you knew you had hours or minutes to live, what would you do? How would you be remembered?

I pray that in those final moments, Oscar and his girlfriend knew true joy, and that, by the mercy of God, only those who remain taste sorrow.

A Thought

Romans 9:21-23: "Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for beauty and another for menial use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the vessels of wrath made for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory to the vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory..."

2 Timothy 2:20-22: "In any great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work. So shun youthful passions and aim at righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call upon the Lord from a pure heart."

It seems that the second text precludes interpreting the first in the manner of Calvinists. For if St. Paul means to put forward the metaphor to describe a salvation that is only passively received, why does he suggest that a person could go from one kind of vessel to another in the latter text?

A Consideration

John 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." John 12:32: "And after I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself." If the Reformed wish to be consistent, it would seem they should be universalists.