Monday, July 23, 2007

An interesting apostolate

Through some young people I know, I've become familiar with a site called "Christian Forums" and the related "Conservative Christian Forums" which is newer and much smaller. I'm finding it an opportunity to learn a lot about how much Christians, especially younger people, are struggling out there. And, of course, I'm seeing lots of dogmatic arguments as well. Each have lively denominational areas as well as places for inter-denominational discussion, requests for advice or support, etc.

I've been able to talk with a number of women from my rather unique perspective of long-time-happily-married, then-widowed-then-courting-chastely, now-a-newlywed. I'm also finding opportunities to clarify Catholic understandings and teachings in layman's language. I've been thinking of putting some of my outside writing here on the blog, so I'll start by sharing some of what I've written on those forums (fora? forae?).

A current hot topic is the recent Vatican statement on the nature of the Church. It is frequently misunderstood, of course. Here's how I responded to one such discussion with the topic "Only Catholic Church is a proper Church says Pope":
I'm sorry this recent statement has been causing so much confusion. I'll try to explain a bit.

The starting point is that the church that Christ established is his Church. Everyone who belongs to Jesus is part of it. The Catholic Church's believes that Jesus wanted to give his body gifts of a kind that would empower them and equip them so that indeed, as he said, it would be "better for you that I go away." Those would be the sacraments, which are outward expressions of God's inward work. The Eucharist (Communion) is one of them, Baptism, and several others.

Many bodies of Christians do not have this understanding of the sacraments, either holding them to be wholly symbolic rather than both fully spiritual and fully physical events (think of the way Jesus was both God and man -- it's the same principle); or else they believe in some subset of the sacraments, but they aren't in the line of the original elders => anointing other elders => anointing other elders all in union with one another. That's related to what Catholics call "apostolic succession". Of course, other churches wouldn't agree that those issues are critical, but that's the basis for the Pope's recent statement that they aren't fully "churches" but rather ecclesial communions. It would help if there were more words available to make the distinctions clear.

So, according to this, more of the things that are part of making God's saving grace available to the world are resident in the Catholic Church than elsewhere, but the other bodies have authentic portions, certainly enough to effect salvation (as you'll see if you just look around at the wonderful spirituality and vibrant life in many congregations). The Pope would also say that the Catholic Church doesn't have everything that Jesus really wanted to give his people, and for that "shame on us", so to speak. If Catholics really realized that, in the Eucharist, Jesus is genuinely (sacramentally) present, and if we encountered him as fully as he wants us to, we would be way more transformed into His likeness than we are.

Update: The KC Catholic says it so much better than I do. (HT Amy)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

I'm not fighting you....

Today's first reading is Genesis 32:23-33, where Jacob (soon to be Israel), wrestles all night with "some man." The man can't prevail over Jacob until he belts him in the hip. Here's the passage:

In the course of the night, Jacob arose, took his two wives,
with the two maidservants and his eleven children,
and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.
After he had taken them across the stream
and had brought over all his possessions,
Jacob was left there alone.
Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.
When the man saw that he could not prevail over him,
he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket,
so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled.
The man then said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The man asked, “What is your name?”
He answered, “Jacob.”
Then the man said,
“You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel,
because you have contended with divine and human beings
and have prevailed.”
Jacob then asked him, “Do tell me your name, please.”
He answered, “Why should you want to know my name?”
With that, he bade him farewell.
Jacob named the place Peniel,
“Because I have seen God face to face,” he said,
“yet my life has been spared.”

At sunrise, as he left Penuel,
Jacob limped along because of his hip.
That is why, to this day, the children of Israel do not eat
the sciatic muscle that is on the hip socket,
inasmuch as Jacob’s hip socket was struck at the sciatic muscle.

We can see the whole episode as a struggle with sin. I've been haunted by my sins lately, both those I have left far behind, sunk in the ocean of God's Mercy by the Sacrament of Confession, and more painfully, those I carry around with me and commit over and over and over again.

I'm afraid that if I was Jacob and some man wrestled with me, I'd just say the hell with it and walk away. If he pursued me, I'd probably try a little diplomacy, get his mind on something else, get my mind on something else. If he yet persisted, get angry and feel picked on. Lastly, I'd run. The battle would never have been fought and he could find me and wrestle with me another day.

God grant me the courage to accept the wrestling matches you send! To be brave in the face of sin!

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Did Isaac struggle?

Today's first reading is the kind that practically demands a visual meditation:

Gen 22:1b-19

God put Abraham to the test.
He called to him, “Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
Then God said: “Take your son Isaac, your only one, whom you love,
and go to the land of Moriah.
There you shall offer him up as a burnt offering
on a height that I will point out to you.”
Early the next morning Abraham saddled his donkey,
took with him his son Isaac, and two of his servants as well,
and with the wood that he had cut for the burnt offering,
set out for the place of which God had told him.

On the third day Abraham got sight of the place from afar.
Then he said to his servants: “Both of you stay here with the donkey,
while the boy and I go on over yonder.
We will worship and then come back to you.”
Thereupon Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering
and laid it on his son Isaac’s shoulders,
while he himself carried the fire and the knife.
As the two walked on together, Isaac spoke to his father Abraham:
“Father!” he said.
“Yes, son,” he replied.
Isaac continued, “Here are the fire and the wood,
but where is the sheep for the burnt offering?”
“Son,” Abraham answered,
“God himself will provide the sheep for the burnt offering.”
Then the two continued going forward.

When they came to the place of which God had told him,
Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it.
Next he tied up his son Isaac,
and put him on top of the wood on the altar.
Then he reached out and took the knife to slaughter his son.
But the LORD’s messenger called to him from heaven,
“Abraham, Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
“Do not lay your hand on the boy,” said the messenger.
“Do not do the least thing to him.
I know now how devoted you are to God,
since you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.”
As Abraham looked about,
he spied a ram caught by its horns in the thicket.
So he went and took the ram
and offered it up as a burnt offering in place of his son.
Abraham named the site Yahweh-yireh;
hence people now say, “On the mountain the LORD will see.”
Again the LORD’s messenger called to Abraham from heaven and said:
“I swear by myself, declares the LORD,
that because you acted as you did
in not withholding from me your beloved son,
I will bless you abundantly
and make your descendants as countless
as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore;
your descendants shall take possession
of the gates of their enemies,
and in your descendants all the nations of the earth
shall find blessing(all this because you obeyed my command.”

Abraham then returned to his servants,
and they set out together for Beer-sheba,
where Abraham made his home.

Note that Abraham didn't tell his son what he was commanded to do, perhaps in faith hoping God would call it off, or not trusting his son not to hightail it out of there when he heard that he was going to be the sacrificial offering. Or, most likely, he didn't want his son to suffer the mental torment during those three days of travel, of this awful thing coming.

But there is that moment of truth: Abraham tied up his son and laid him on the wood and advanced with the knife.

Did Isaac shout, and struggle, and cry, and beg for the reason for this monstrous surprise? Or did he have the faith to trust his father's actions? Or did he resign himself to be the sacrifice?

We aren't told explicitly and that's okay. We can broaden out the image and get a glimpse of Jesus, the only son of the Father, being sacrificed for our sins. He was silent and did not struggle, but He did cry out "Take this from me, if it be Thy Will!" and "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" His divinity and His humanity remain ever-present, ever-balanced.

We can meditate on this passage from the point of view of Abraham AND of Isaac.

(I read a wag somewhere who pointed out that Isaac trusted his father on the mount of Moriah, but we can bet that he never took any long walks with Abraham again!)

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Worthy of meditation

Fr. Walter Schu summarizes (National Catholic Register, June 14) Donald Asci's remarks on the connection between chastity and Pope John Paul's Theology of the Body at the First International Institute on the Theology of the Body.
Here it is not a question of chastity in the narrow sense of a virtue as a disposition to good behavior. Rather, chastity is considered in the broad sense as "the successful integration of sexuality within the person" (Catechism, No. 2337). . .

The theology of the body is centered in the gift of self. Only the chaste person can make such a gift. For spouses, this gift is embodied and expressed in the act of conjugal union. But no one can give what he does not first possess. It is precisely the mastery of oneself, the self-possession which comes through chastity, that enables men and women to be a gift to one another.

I'm going to remember this the next time I want to explain why it's so much better to preserve sexual expressions of love for marriage.


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