Thursday, August 4, 2011
Thursday, April 21, 2011
The words of Jesus and the apostles can be taken one of two ways. Either they were terribly insensitive and radically exclusive, or they were uniquely sober, forthright and exquisitely sensitive to the only two possible destinies of humanity.
Since the beginning of creation, men and women, sensing a need to be cleansed of their sins, have asked, "What must I do to be saved?" And God has every time answered the same way.
For example, we read in Moses here and here the requirement for a sacrificial atonement. With regard to blood and redemption from Egypt, what does this passage suggest? Some people do not know the 'lintel" is the top of a doorway. Try to imagine yourself striking the top of the doorway and then the two sides of the doorway with the bloodied branch. What pattern are you making with the blood? Now read this passage in the prophet Isaiah and in St. John's gospel.
What relationship do you see among these various texts you just read?
Moving to the New Testament, note the words of Jesus here: John 8:23-24 and John 14:6; St. Peter here: Acts 4:2 and Acts 2:36-41, and St. Paul here: Romans 1:16 and Philippians 2:5-11.
What do those passages teach?
God's message that you and I can find with Him reconciliation, forgiveness of sins and eternal life only in Christ is central to the entire Bible. And it is central to the teaching of the Church. Note these two examples from the Catechism of the Catholic Church here and here.
The gospel is unapologetically exclusive of all other faiths but Christ, all other doctrines but Christ, all other 'roads" but Christ. It will not be Buddha, or Muhammad, or Moses, or Hari Krishna sitting on the throne of God. It will be Jesus Christ.
That being true, then what should be our response -- both to God and to others?
Next time we will look at baptism, and how that Sacrament plays out in our relationship with Jesus and salvation.
Sunday, April 10, 2011
We completed our discussion of "the hope of our calling" in the last lessons. Let's now look at St. Paul's comment about "One Lord, one faith, and one baptism . . .."
There is always the possibility of a disconnect between calling Jesus 'Lord" and living as if Jesus is our personal Lord. A dictionary definition of 'Lord" might be "a person or thing who has authority, control, or power over others; master, or ruler".
Think for a moment about your relationship with the Lord Jesus. How do you demonstrate your subservience to His Lordship? How do the writers of sacred Scripture instruct us to demonstrate that subservience? For example, what do these passages teach us here, here, here, and (substitute the word 'Christian' for Jew, and 'Sacraments' for circumcision) in this passage here?
After answering those questions, consider these: Does participation in the Sacraments in and of themselves demonstrate our submissiveness to Christ, or does God require more than, for example, receiving Holy Communion and the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Consider St. Paul's comment about the Holy Eucharist here. What do you think he meant when he wrote those instructions to the Church at Corinth?
Now look at the Church's teaching in the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the Sacraments:
1098 The assembly should prepare itself to encounter its Lord and to become "a people well disposed." The preparation of hearts is the joint work of the Holy Spirit and the assembly, especially of its ministers. The grace of the Holy Spirit seeks to awaken faith, conversion of heart, and adherence to the Father's will. These dispositions are the precondition both for the reception of other graces conferred in the celebration itself and the fruits of new life which the celebration is intended to produce afterward.
1133 The Holy Spirit prepares the faithful for the sacraments by the Word of God and the faith which welcomes that word in well-disposed hearts. Thus the sacraments strengthen faith and express it.
What do you think the Church means when it speaks of 'well-disposed' hearts?
Israel had a problem not walking their talk about the Lordship of God. They called God Lord, but they treated Him otherwise. Note Isaiah 1:2-4 and Malachi 1:6-8. And, of course, Christians can be guilty of the same problem. Take a look at this sobering warning of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 7:21-23.
Is that a danger we can fall into? If so, what steps will you take to minimize that risk?
We will look next time at "One faith, one baptism."
Thursday, March 31, 2011
The other part of our calling, closely linked to the first, is our call to evangelize – from the Greek, εὐαγγέλιον (euanggelion)– to proclaim good news. It is linked to the first part of our calling because, well, because we can’t give what we don’t have.
Used by the New Testament writers and the Church, εὐαγγέλιον means to proclaim the good news of salvation through God’s only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ. And so the Lord Jesus commissioned the Church (specifically, each Christian) to make disciples of all nations by teaching them the gospel. Note also St. Luke's rehearsal of the Lord's Great Commission here, St. Paul's words here, and St. Peter's instruction regarding the reason for our calling here.
And thus the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to this missionary mandate in many places, such as here, here and here.
It should be unnecessary to add comment that we cannot really know Christ, or effectively tell others about Him, if we ourselves do not walk the talk. Note St. Paul's words here and here. Also see, St. Peter's here, with St. James' here. And then there is the dire warning of Jesus to those who profess to be Christians, but are in reality fooling only themselves.
Which is why, by the way, to foster better and increasing obedience Christ, I encourage all who read this blog to regularly participate in what I call the 4 Ss -- Sacraments, Scripture study, Supplication (prayer) and Socializing with those of like faith (e.g. fellowship).
Think of it for a moment: the Almighty Creator of all that is seen and unseen permits jars of clay to participate in the privilege of bringing others to new birth.
That is our calling.
I can think of none other more precious.
We will move on into this chapter in the next lesson.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
If you are Catholic, note what the Church teaches about Scripture study (from the Catechism of the Catholic Church):
paragraph 131 "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life." Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."
paragraph 132 "Therefore, the study of the sacred page should be the very soul of sacred theology. The ministry of the Word, too - pastoral preaching, catechetics and all forms of Christian instruction, among which the liturgical homily should hold pride of place - is healthily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture."
paragraph 133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
Now take a look at Romans 12:1-2. How might you train yourself to do as St. Paul tells us here? Can you think of other passages of Scripture that might suggest some answers to that question?
Hope to see you then.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
The New Testament 'hope' is NOT a wishful desire -- for example, "I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow" (meaning, it might nonetheless rain -- or it might not). Rather, New Testament 'hope' carries the idea of a confident expectation of something promised by God. The reason St. Paul has such confidence (and why we can have such confidence) is because God doesn't lie. If He said something is true, then there is no way in heaven or on earth that it will ever be untrue.
Thus, if God says all those who trust Jesus Christ for salvation will be saved, then all those who trust Jesus Christ for salvation can declare it from the rooftops, "I am saved." (For example, see here, here and here).
That is why the writer to the Hebrews could be bold to say this and this about why every Christian who abides in Christ can have confidence in his or her salvation. And St. Paul reminds us that salvation is a gift. Gifts, of course, are not earned. They are unearned. They are given by God's grace alone, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims here, here, here, and here.
So, what are some of the many things St. Paul tells us are bound up in that confident expectation?
For example, take a look at these passages and write down in your notebook the promises -- the hope -- assured by God to the Christian:
1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
To reiterate, the reason we can have a confident expectation in God's promises to us is because -- and only because -- Jesus died as our substitute. He paid the penalty God required of us for our sin. Which is why all the promises of God to His children, baptized into His Body and abiding in Christ are "yes, and amen."
Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.
Friday, March 4, 2011
1. “SPE SALVI facti sumus”—in hope we were saved, says Saint Paul to the Romans, and likewise to us (Rom 8:24). According to the Christian faith, “redemption”—salvation—is not simply a given. Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal, and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.
Now the question immediately arises: what sort of hope could ever justify the statement that, on the basis of that hope and simply because it exists, we are redeemed? And what sort of certainty is involved here?
Pope Benedict answers his question over the next several pages of his letter (you can read the entire encyclical here).
Although it is quite long, and the text is not formatted as well as I would wish it to be (not enough 'white space' to make reading easier on the eye), I hope you will take the time at least to peruse his answer. Doing so will put the apostle Paul's text in Ephesians in better context and help us understand our own role in the Church.
We will look a bit more into the Christian's hope in the next lesson as we use some of Pope Benedict's encyclical as backdrop.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Today's focus: One SPIRIT
a. See paragraph 683 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (below) answer the questions that follow:
683 "No one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit." "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, 'Abba! Father!"'
This knowledge of faith is possible only in the Holy Spirit: to be in touch with Christ, we must first have been touched by the Holy Spirit. He comes to meet us and kindles faith in us. By virtue of our Baptism, the first sacrament of the faith, the Holy Spirit in the Church communicates to us, intimately and personally, the life that originates in the Father and is offered to us in the Son.
Baptism gives us the grace of new birth in God the Father, through his Son, in the Holy Spirit. For those who bear God's Spirit are led to the Word, that is, to the Son, and the Son presents them to the Father, and the Father confers incorruptibility on them. And it is impossible to see God's Son without the Spirit, and no one can approach the Father without the Son, for the knowledge of the Father is the Son, and the knowledge of God's Son is obtained through the Holy Spirit.
Questions: According to this passage in the Cathechism of the Catholic Church, what are the roles of the Holy Spirit? I count seven. How many do you count? What do we do to earn the gift of the Holy Spirit? (Careful. This is a trick question).
b. Now see John 3:7-12; 7:38-40; 14:15-18; 16:7-11 and write on a separate sheet of paper the various roles the Lord Jesus attributes to the Holy Spirit (e.g. salvation in John 3:7ff).
c. See Romans 8:14-16. The word 'abba' used here is an Aramaic term used by Jewish children when referring to their 'daddy.' It is the same word Jesus used in the Garden of Gethsemene (Mark 14:35-36). What does this imply about the Holy Spirit's role in our intimacy with the Father?
The Church recites the Nicene Creed at each Mass. Part of the Creed, in addressing the Holy Spirit, reads: "He has spoken through the prophets" -- meaning the words of Sacred Scripture are "God-Breathed", written for us by men under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Which is why, for example, St. Paul wrote these words to St. Timothy: (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Note also what the Church tells us about Holy Scripture (and then answer the question that follows):
131 "And such is the force and power of the Word of God that it can serve the Church as her support and vigor, and the children of the Church as strength for their faith, food for the soul, and a pure and lasting fount of spiritual life."Hence "access to Sacred Scripture ought to be open wide to the Christian faithful."
133 The Church "forcefully and specifically exhorts all the Christian faithful. . . to learn the surpassing knowledge of Jesus Christ, by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures. Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.
136 God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them. He thus gives assurance that their writings teach without error his saving truth.
140 The unity of the two Testaments proceeds from the unity of God's plan and his Revelation. The Old Testament prepares for the New and the New Testament fulfills the Old; the two shed light on each other; both are true Word of God.
141 "The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures as she venerated the Body of the Lord": both nourish and govern the whole Christian life. "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Ps 119:105; cf. Is 50:4).
Question: Do you have a plan to consistently read through your Bible? If not, visit this page on my other blog for my recommendation.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
1. Read Ephesians 1:18-23; Eph 4:11-16; Romans 12:1-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-14; and the Catechism of the Catholic Church (below) paragraphs 817-819. Answer the questions below on a separate page.
a. What, or better, WHO is the Body of Christ?
b. What, or better, WHO is the head of the Body?
c. What do the above Scriptures teach us about the unity, design, function and purpose of the Body of Christ?
d. What role do you see yourself playing in the functionality and purpose of the Body?
e. What might you do, if anything, to be a more funtional part of the Body?
f. Review the Catechism paragraph 817-818 (below). What does this teach us about non-Catholic Christians?
g. Review the Catechism paragraph 819 (below). What role might individual Catholics play in working toward the unity of Christ's Body?
Now review the Catechism paragraphs 789-791 (below). How do these paragraphs interface with today's study? We will look more closely at them, along with other Scripture texts, next time.
817 In fact, "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers.
818 "However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church."
819 "Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity."
789 The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ.
790 Believers who respond to God's word and become members of Christ's Body, become intimately united with him: "In that body the life of Christ is communicated to those who believe, and who, through the sacraments, are united in a hidden and real way to Christ in his Passion and glorification." This is especially true of Baptism, which unites us to Christ's death and Resurrection, and the Eucharist, by which "really sharing in the body of the Lord, . . . we are taken up into communion with him and with one another."
791 The body's unity does not do away with the diversity of its members: "In the building up of Christ's Body there is engaged a diversity of members and functions. There is only one Spirit who, according to his own richness and the needs of the ministries, gives his different gifts for the welfare of the Church." The unity of the Mystical Body produces and stimulates charity among the faithful: "From this it follows that if one member suffers anything, all the members suffer with him, and if one member is honored, all the members together rejoice." Finally, the unity of the Mystical Body triumphs over all human divisions: "For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Read Ephesians 4:1-3 and answer the following questions:
Ephesians 4:1-3 “. . . walk worthy of the vocation in which you are called . . ."
a. We have a God-given vocation (from Latin vocatio, meaning 'to summon,' and vocare meaning, 'to call'). Webster’s Dictionary -- Vocation: a summons or strong inclination to a particular state or course of action; especially : a divine call to the religious life b: an entry into the priesthood or a religious order; work in which a person is regularly employed.
b. Now read and answer:
Eph 5:1-2 -- What does it mean to you to "imitate God"?
Matt 22:34-40 -- In what ways do the Ten Commandments and all the other laws, rituals and rules of the Old and New Testament Church era depend on what Jesus says here?
John 13:34-35 -- Can you cite concrete ways in which we can/should demonstrate love for our brothers and sisters in the entire Body of Christ . . . including those who do not belong to our Church?
John 15:12-14 (on what does Jesus make our claim to discipleship contingent?
Galatians 5:19-26 -- Consider memorizing this section.
Heb 12:14-15 -- what might be a root of bitterness taken root in your own heart. Go to a quiet place and be prepared to spend to spend quality time with the Lord and ask Him to show you any roots that need His divine removal. Compare this passage with Dt. 29:14-18. What might be the end result for us if we permit roots of bitterness to spring up in our lives?
Sunday, February 6, 2011
What this format looses, of course, is the interaction we enjoyed during the group study. This format (below) requires more personal energy to look up all the passages and other references. I do believe, however, such a format can be useful.
And so, I will try doing the study this way and see if it is useful for anyone.
Please let me know either way.
One more thing, I use a variety of Bible texts in my study, such as the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the New American Bible (NAB), as well as the New International Version (NIV), the Amplified Bible and a few others. I use different versions, along with lexical helps from http://www.blueletterbible.org/ and http://www.biblegateway.com/, because I believe good research and study requires a variety of helps in order to better understand the nuances of Greek, Hebrew and Aramaic words used in Scripture.
Unfortunately, the NAB internet site search engine (found at http://www.usccb.org/nab/bible/index.shtml) does not permit citation links to isolated texts.. That weakness in the site's search engine makes listing the various NAB verses more tedious and time consuming. I invite you to use your own NAB along with the blueletterbible and biblegateway links for your study.
a. See Heb 4:16; 10:19-23; 1 John 4:15-19; 1 John 5:10-13
What doe these Bible texts and the Catechism paragraphs below have in common? What can we learn from the combination?
3:13 “I ask you not to lose heart . . .they are for your glory . . .”
a. Compare 1 Corinthians 4:9-15; 2 Corinthians 11:24-29
b. How do we handle distress? The world is watching
Eph 3:14-19 “For this reason . . .” (refers to all after v 8)
a. How would our lives change if we acted (instead of theorizing) on this message? (Esp His love: See John 17:23, Gen 50:20 with Romans 8:28; Job 13:15; Habakkuk 3:17-18)
Eph 3:20 “Able to do more abundantly . . .”
a. See 1 Chronicles 29:10-16; 2 Cor 8:9; Psalm 33:6-22
b. If He is able, but He doesn’t – is He still good? (see CCC 2609)
2608 From the Sermon on the Mount onwards, Jesus insists on conversion of heart: reconciliation with one's brother before presenting an offering on the altar, love of enemies, and prayer for persecutors, prayer to the Father in secret, not heaping up empty phrases, prayerful forgiveness from the depths of the heart, purity of heart, and seeking the Kingdom before all else. This filial (Webster: having or assuming the relation of a child or offspring) conversion is entirely directed to the Father.
2609 Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. He can ask us to "seek" and to "knock," since he himself is the door and the way.
2610 Just as Jesus prays to the Father and gives thanks before receiving his gifts, so he teaches us filial boldness: "Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will." Such is the power of prayer and of faith that does not doubt: "all things are possible to him who believes." Jesus is as saddened by the "lack of faith" of his own neighbors and the "little faith" of his own disciples as he is struck with admiration at the great faith of the Roman centurion and the Canaanite woman.
2777 In the Roman liturgy, the Eucharistic assembly is invited to pray to our heavenly Father with filial boldness; the Eastern liturgies develop and use similar expressions: "dare in all confidence,". . . . Our awareness of our status as slaves would make us sink into the ground and our earthly condition would dissolve into dust, if the authority of our Father himself and the Spirit of his Son had not impelled us to this cry . . . 'Abba, Father!' . . . When would a mortal dare call God 'Father,' if man's innermost being were not animated by power from on high?"
end of this lesson
Saturday, April 24, 2010
As we read through chapter three it might be easy to gloss past verse 13 and not grasp its importance -- or its power.
Glossing past it would be easy because verse 13 refers all the way back to verse 1 in which the apostle tells his readers he is a prisoner -- literally -- for their sakes; And that he is willing to be in chains for them because God had given him opportunity to tell them what he calls the mystery and riches of Christ (verses 4 and 8) -- that is: Gentiles are “fellow-heirs and fellow-members of the body [of Christ], and fellow-partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus” (verse 6).
The Creator of everything seen and unseen had extended His mercy, passion and promises not only toward Israel, but to them as well.
This was no small thing in the apostle’s mind. Nor should it be in ours.
When we study St. Paul's life we learn what drove him. He had grasped the secret of a life sold-out for Christ. He considered no calling, no purpose, no reward greater – regardless of personal cost -- than to bring to others the unsurpassable message of hope, forgiveness, and eternal life in – and only in – Jesus Christ. Indeed, St. Paul considered that message more important than his freedom or comfort . . . . more even than his own self-preservation.
No wonder he encouraged the church at Ephesus to not be discouraged about his afflictions for their sakes. He considered it a privilege to be expended and spent for their sakes and the gospel.
Questions for Reflection:
1. St. Paul did "all things for the sake of the gospel." Compare this comment from his first letter to the Corinthians with the Lord Jesus' words here. What message ties these two passages together?
2. How might you ask God to help you journey in the direction where you are willing, as St. Paul, to be expended and spent for others and the gospel?
3. Explain how frequent reception of the Sacraments (especially the Eucharist and Reconciliation), Scripture study and supplication will determine the speed at which any of us arrive at number 2?
Sunday, February 21, 2010
In the book of Exodus, God instructed Moses about the construction of the Tabernacle – the place where Israel worshiped God during their 40-year journey through the wilderness. You will find reference to the construction in Exodus chapters 25 through 31. Although the reading might be tedious, the detail of the construction lays vitally important groundwork for this passage in Ephesians – as well as the significance of the rending of the curtain in St. Matthew 27:50-51, and the comments in Hebrews 4:14-16 and 10:19-23.
The Tabernacle was divided into two sections and separated by a curtain (a veil). In the larger section – called the Holy Place – Moses placed three pieces of furniture: a lamp stand, a table for the Bread of the Presence, and an altar of incense. It was in this section the priests burned incense, kept the candles lit, and the bread fresh.
The smaller section behind the curtain was called the Holy of Holies. In this section Moses placed the holy Ark of the Covenant – a golden box in which were placed the Tablets of the Law Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, and later a jar of manna, and the almond branch that had flowered and budded overnight to prove the priestly authority of Aaron. On top of the Ark sculptors crafted two angels which faced each other with their wings touching. God’s glory in the form of a cloud rested over the Ark.
Once a year on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) the High Priest – and only the High Priest – entered behind the veil into the Holy of Holies. On that holiest of days, the High Priest entered the sacred room with a basin of blood from a sacrificial lamb. And so the veil in the Tabernacle -- and later in Solomon's Temple and later still in Herod's Temple during the days of Christ -- the veil served as an effective reminder to Israel that the way to God was closed to the people, that only the High Priest could enter into the very throne room of God.
The point of it all is this: When Jesus died on the cross, God ripped the veil in two, from top to bottom -- revealing once and for all that the way into the Holy of Holies was now available to all God's people, not just the High Priest.
That is why the writer to the Hebrews said: Therefore, brothers, since through the blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance into the sanctuary by the new and living way he opened for us through the veil, that is, his flesh, and since we have "a great priest over the house of God," let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust . . . (Hebrews 10:19-23) (emphasis mine).
In referring to our boldness to enter behind what once was a veil, the editors of the New American Bible wrote these comments: Practical consequences from these reflections on the priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ should make it clear that Christians may now have direct and confident access to God through the person of Jesus, who rules God's house as high priest. They should approach God with sincerity and faith, in the knowledge that through baptism their sins have been remitted, reminding themselves of the hope they expressed in Christ at that event.
Further, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
Once committed to conversion, the heart learns to pray in faith. Faith is a filial (filial: having a relationship as a son or daughter) [a filial] adherence to God beyond what we feel and understand. It is possible because the beloved Son gives us access to the Father. . . . (paragraph 2609).
Just as Jesus prays to the Father and gives thanks before receiving his gifts, so he teaches us filial boldness: Whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you receive it, and you will" (paragraph 2610).
And finally, we read in paragraph 2777 of the Catechism: In the Roman liturgy, the Eucharistic assembly is invited to pray to our heavenly Father with filial boldness; the Eastern liturgies develop and use similar expressions: "dare in all confidence,". . . . Our awareness of our status as slaves would make us sink into the ground and our earthly condition would dissolve into dust, if the authority of our Father himself and the Spirit of his Son had not impelled us to this cry . . . 'Abba, Father!' . . . When would a mortal dare call God 'Father,' if man's innermost being were not animated by power from on high? (my emphasis).
And so it is no wonder St. Paul guided the Ephesians -- and us -- into that most gracious and undeserved relationship with God. Baptized and faithful followers of Jesus Christ are invited by God Himself to enter boldly to Him -- in humility, of course -- recognizing that Christ's blood alone makes us welcomed sons and daughters into the very throne room of God.
Oh, thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.Questions for reflection:
1. Since all Christians have direct access to God through the blood of Jesus Christ, how then should we behave when doubts whisper, “Who do you think you are to approach God?”
2. What does this passage in 2 Corinthians, and this passage in Romans have to do with our welcome into God’s presence?
Thursday, January 28, 2010
. . . . so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places. This was in accordance with the eternal purpose which He carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord . . . (Ephesians 3:10-11).
We spent the last three lessons looking at verse 10. Let's turn our focus now to verse 11. Here St. Paul tells the Ephesians God's plan -- the plan Paul has been writing about for the past two chapters "was in accordance" with God's eternal purpose.
God's eternal purpose.
I think that's a remarkable concept. The full reconciliation of rebellious men and women with their holy Creator, the complete and utter cleansing of sin from the human soul, the union of all peoples by the blood of Jesus, the creation of the Church through which God would give spiritual guidance to the nations -- all these and more were conceived by God before the creation of earth itself -- even before the creation of time.
Even before Eve ate that fruit, and gave it to her husband.
Most people of Christian faith understand (as best as humans can understand the infinite God)
-- most Christians understand God sees the future as clearly as He sees the past and present. And nothing -- including events in the Garden of Eden -- nothing catches Him by surprise. Desolation, disease, disaster, death . . . nothing necessitates that He develop a Plan B to deal with those things that usually shake us to our core.
But while the recognition that God is not caught by surprise might make for interesting table-talk, table-talk does not meet our need when desolation overshadows our lives. So what can St. Paul's words here in verse 11 mean for my situation? Or yours?
Take a look at these passages here, here, here, here and here, before you answer, and before you move on in this lesson. You might want to pause at each passage and mull the texts over in your mind for a while.
The Lord's question in that last reference (John 11:26) I think speaks to the heart of the entire question of God's eternal purpose in what often appears to be desolation: Do you believe what I have said?
Life often undulates with confusion, heartache and loss. Live long enough and it's easy to wonder where is God in the midst of it all. But verse 11 of Ephesians chapter 3 -- and the passages you just read -- each remind us that from the very moment time began, God's plan for your life, for my life, and for the lives of those we love . . . God's eternal plan and purpose had already been conceived in His compassionate and loving heart.
He is simply bringing it to fruition in our personal timeline, and according to His eternal purpose.
And that is why we can trust Him to work all things together for good to those of us who love Him and are called according to His purpose (see Romans 8:28).
Next time we will look at how verse 11 directly affects our ability to accomplish verse 12.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Read John 11:1-35. What does verse 35 say to you about our Lord's heart toward you?
2. Read Proverbs 3:5. Why do you think it is often so difficult to do as this verse exhorts? What strategies might you employ to better enable you to trust Him?
Friday, January 1, 2010
The concept of God as a tri-unity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is universally accepted today by all Christians who believe the Bible to be the fully authoritative and divinely inspired word of God. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (bold are my emphasis):
All Sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ (paragraph 134). The Sacred Scriptures contain the Word of God and, because they are inspired, they are truly the Word of God (paragraph 135). God is the author of Sacred Scripture because he inspired its human authors; he acts in them and by means of them. He thus gives assurance that their writings teach without error his saving truth (paragraph 136).
The tri-unity of God is not the only truth accepted by all Bible-believing Christians. Just as important to our faith is our understanding of Jesus -- that He is at the same time fully God and fully human, that He was conceived in the Virgin's womb by the power of the Holy Spirit, lived a sinless life, was crucified to pay the penalty of our sins, was resurrected from the dead on the third day, ascended to heaven and will come again to bring His children home to heaven with Him. We also believe the Holy Spirit is not a "force" but is a "Person" -- the third Person of the Trinity.
But while 21st century Christians -- Catholics, Greek Orthodox and Protestants -- agree about these doctrines, agreement has not always been the case. There were times, especially in the early centuries, when these doctrines were in great danger of being dismantled. If not for the forceful opposition of leaders God raised up in the Church, Christianity as we know it would not have survived.
For example, we looked briefly last time at the doctrine formulated by the "Judaizers" (see Acts 15 and Galatians 5). If not for the leadership of Sts. James, Peter, Paul and the others, the Christian doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ's atonement would have been watered down into oblivion by the notion that one had to be circumcised to be saved.
Another heresy facing the early Church was Gnosticism -- a system of beliefs whose predominant theme revolved around the idea that only those who have been given a special knowledge (Greek: gnosis) of the mysteries of the universe can be saved. Sts. Paul and Peter likely addressed this error in their letters to the Colossians, 1 Timothy and 2 Peter.
Probably the most dangerous heresy affecting the early Church was taught by a priest named Arius (born circa 250 A. D.) Arianism (not the same as Aryanism) taught that Jesus was not truly divine, but rather was the first and greatest of all God's creatures. In other words, God is a singular "one." Jesus is not God. Neither is the Holy Spirit, God. After much heated debate, and in a manner reminiscent of the Jerusalem council in Acts 15, the Church leaders convened a council at Nicea (in modern Turkey) in 325 A.D. to hear both sides of the question, and to definitively settle the question
It was at this council at Nicea that the Catholic Church established what is now known as the Nicene Creed. The council made it clear in this following phrase that Jesus was truly divine:
"We believe in one lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in being (or, one essence) with the Father."
In 381, at the Council of Constantinople, the Church amended the Nicene Creed with this statement of faith regarding the divinity of the Holy Spirit: "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son*. With the Father and the Son He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets."
Pelagianism was another erroneous teaching circulating through the early Church. Pelagius (circa 354 A.D) taught salvation could be achieved solely by upright moral behavior -- even without God's grace merited to us through Christ's atonement. In other words, salvation was strictly a "works" issue.
Pelagianism continued to spread until the Catholic Church met in 529 A.D. to definitively address the heresy. At the Synod of Orange the Church set forth it position that salvation was a grace granted by God completely gratuitously -- and not at all on the basis of our merit.
To close this section of our study of St. Paul's comment in Ephesians 3:10, let's look at one more heresy that spread through the early Church and -- if it had been successful -- would have altered our understanding of Jesus Christ and salvation.
Nestorius (born circa 386) was an Archbishop of Constantinople. He argued that the Virgin Mary was properly called "Mother of Christ" and not "Mother of God" because Mother of God implied the divine nature was born, suffered and died. Nestorius believed in dualism -- an idea not uncommon to other incomplete and early teachings about the full divinity and humanity of Christ. Nestorius believe there were two persons in Christ -- a divine and a human. Thus it was the human person in Christ who was born, suffered and died, not the divine person.
The Church Council at Ephesus (431 A.D.) denied the dualism of Nestorius by establishing the term "Theotokos" for the Virgin -- meaning, Mother of God (i.e. Mother of Jesus who is God) -- thereby settling the question (for a time, anyway) of the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus.
Even a cursory study of Catholic Church history, and the vital role it played in protecting true Christian faith from faltering into error, is a valuable endeavor. For further information, follow these links here and here (for example), or google "early church councils."
When St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians . . . . so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places, he could not have known the full scope of heresies and erroneous teachings that would circulate through the Church during the ensuing centuries. But God the Holy Spirit knew. And that is why I believe He inspired St. Paul to pen these words in chapter three, and later in chapter four.
God is all about protecting His flock. That is why He gave us the Scriptures, and that is why He gave us the Church to help us understand the Scriptures. Without both, the flock run the risk of going terribly astray.
Next time we will move further into St. Paul's words in chapter three.
* I am aware of the "filioque" controversy. You can read about the controversy here and here.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What were your thoughts when you first heard the term, "Mother of God"? After reading the above paragraph about Nestorianism, what do you now think of the term?
2. Can you think of any Scriptures that someone could use to support the position that Jesus is not really God in the flesh (hint: there are several in the NT)? Can you think of any Scriptures to support the position that Jesus is truly God (hint: there are many in the NT, as well as the OT).
Friday, December 18, 2009
In last lesson’s Questions for Reflection we looked at 1 Timothy 3:15 in which St. Paul calls the church the “pillar and support of the truth.” Notice the apostle also uses similar language here in Ephesians 3:10, as well as in Ephesians 4:11-13 – the point being that the Holy Spirit confirms through St. Paul that God established church hierarchy to protect the flock from false doctrine.
And St. Paul was well aware of the wolves that waited to draw the disciples away from the true faith. Note his warning to the elders and leaders of the church at Ephesus, found in Acts 20:
Keep watch over yourselves and over the whole flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you overseers, in which you tend the church of God that he acquired with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come among you, and they will not spare the flock. And from your own group, men will come forward perverting the truth to draw the disciples away after them (20:28-30).
St. Peter also gives similar warning to his readers: “ . . . there is no prophecy of scripture that is a matter of personal interpretation, for no prophecy ever came through human will; but rather human beings moved by the Holy Spirit spoke under the influence of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). And then, as if to highlight the danger inherent in people interpreting Scripture according to their own minds, Peter warns his readers in the next chapter: There were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will introduce destructive heresies and even deny the Master who ransomed them, bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their licentious ways, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled (2 Peter 2:1-2).
And so the question becomes critical to our faith and walk with Christ: Without apostolic church leadership (remember our discussion in part one of this lesson as it related to Matthew 16:19), who would determine the correct interpretation of the scriptures? Who was to say what orthodox Christian faith was and what it was not?
In St. Luke’s record of the early acts of the apostles, we find the clearest New Testament illustration of how church hierarchy protects the flock and takes upon itself the divine right to interpret God’s Word.
As we saw in earlier lessons, the Law of Moses was so ingrained into Jewish theology that Jews – including the apostles – could not accept the idea that God would welcome Gentiles into His family without – at the very least – circumcision. That was why God gave Peter the vision of the sheet in Acts 10 -- three times – until Peter finally caught on that God does things differently than any of the disciples had believed. And so if it was difficult for St. Peter to grasp the grace of God, it was not unreasonable for the Jewish priests and other teachers of the Law who became Christians to believe that Gentiles “must be circumcised” in order to be saved.
The record in Acts 15 suggests the debate grew long and probably loud. Finally, James gave his opinion, to which the rest of the council concurred.
Let’s now focus our attention on this section of James’ comments:
Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas--Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them,
"The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles, greetings. Since we have heard that some of our number to whom we gave no instruction have disturbed you with their words, unsettling your souls, it seemed good to us, having become of one mind, to select men to send to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell" (15:22-29).
And so, James informs the fledgling Church beyond the borders of Israel that some of the Christians from among the Pharisees were spreading a message without the authority of the church hierarchy – in this case, the apostles. The church leadership clearly considered this issue a serious challenge to the mechanism of authority set up by Christ, and the apostles sent emissaries – Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas – to teach the correct doctrine of the Church.
In the next lesson we will look into the early centuries of the Church – centuries in which heresies flourished and gravely threatened to undermine orthodox Christian faith. If not for Catholic Church leadership throughout Asia, Africa and Europe, Biblical Christian faith would have been destroyed.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Read again 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 1 Timothy 3:15. In light of this lesson’s discussion, who do you think has the right to interpret Scripture, especially when it relates to doctrine? Why do you think so?
2. Read Revelation 2:12-16 and 2:18-20. In light of Acts 20:28-31, in what ways can today’s Christian “be on the alert”?
Friday, December 4, 2009
One of the things that attracted me to the Catholic Church was its rule of order and its centralized ecclesial authority that interprets and defines orthodox faith and morals for God’s people.
In this passage in Ephesians, as in other places in the New Testament (for example, here, here and here) the Holy Spirit through St. Paul makes it clear that God established a central authority -- a kind of central repository -- through which, and from which, orthodox Christian doctrine (teaching) would flow. That concept helped establish order within the early earthly Body of Christ.
And order is what God likes.
We catch a glimpse of God’s preference for order from the very beginning of Creation. God built His world one day at a time, each day founded on the events occurring the day before.
Then there’s the meticulous detail, page after page through the latter half of Exodus, into Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy – detail that guided and informed the nation regarding such routine activities such as what to eat and what to avoid eating, what to do when they were ill -- even the kinds of seed they could plant in the same plot of ground and the kinds of material they could use in their clothing.
And we cannot overlook the intricate detail God gave Moses for the construction of the Tabernacle.
All this near mind-numbing attention to such intricate detail is perhaps why many modern readers find sections of these early Biblical books so boring. After all, does anyone today really care how many loops each curtain was to have, or what to do with a bowl into which a dead bug fell?
As for worship and the promulgation of Truth, although God spoke initially through Moses, He later established the priesthood whose responsibility it was to offer sacrifices for the people and to teach God’s Word (see here, and here, for example).
And so, fast forward to the New Testament, the idea of a central ecclesial authority was not a foreign concept to the Jewish apostles. Indeed, the centuries-old understanding of, and expectation for, a central ecclesial authority made it a kind of “no-brainer” that the Lord Jesus established a hierarchy of Church authority when He said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:19).
For the three decades before I became a Catholic Christian, I never understood what the Lord was really saying to Peter here in this passage. But first century Christians (and Christians in subsequent centuries) readily understood that when someone received “keys” he received authority.
To my knowledge the word "keys" is used only eight times in the Bible: Judges 3:25; Isaiah 22:20-22; Matthew 16:18-19; Luke 11:52; Revelation 1:17-18; Revelation 3:7; Revelation 9:1; and Revelation 20:1;
The passage in Judges speaks of the normal use of a key, as does Revelation 9:1 and 20:1. But in the other instances, as the context of each indicates, the key represents authority or power over something. This is why members of the Body of Christ – from as early as near the end of the first century (and probably much earlier) interpreted the passage in Matthew 16 to mean Jesus gave the authority over the earthly church to Peter (and his successors) in much the same way as the kingdom of Israel was under the authority of David and his successors.
Church history also is clear about how Christians in the early centuries understood the Lord’s comment to Peter. Here are only a few examples of people widely recognized even today among Christians as leaders of the early Church, and who acknowledged Peter’s unique role:
The Letter of Clement to James (A.D. 221) wrote: Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter.
Origen (A.D. 248) wrote: Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church.
Cyprian of Carthage (A.D. 251) wrote: On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair, and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . .
So that this lesson does not become too long and laborious, I will stop here and pick up again next time with more of the Biblical roots of Church ecclesiastical authority, and how that authority relates to St. Paul's comment to the Ephesians here in chapter 3 and verse 10.
Questions for Reflection:
1. Read John 21, and then review verses 15-17. How do you understand the Lord’s comment to Peter in this context?
2. What do you think St. Paul meant when he called the Church the “pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15)?
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
St. Paul never got over his remorse. The guilt? Yes. But not the remorse.
You might remember how Paul (then known as Saul) ravaged the Church, watching with approval as others killed Christians. He hated the disciples so passionately he even sought permission from the religious leaders to travel to distant cities and drag followers of Christ to prison in Jerusalem.
No, St. Paul never forgot what he did to Christ. The image stayed with him as long as he lived -- for example, see here, here, here, and here. But the apostle also recognized -- and this has important application for us -- St. Paul also recognized God had washed clean his sins with the blood of the same Jesus he once persecuted.
St. Paul never forgot his sin, but neither did he ever forget God's mercy -- which is why he wrote to his protege, Timothy:
It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16) [bolded highlight my emphasis].
And it was his recognition of God's mercy that led the apostle to write to the Ephesians of the "unfathomable riches of Christ" (3:8).
Think of it. The absolute and utterly Holy stooped to kiss the absolute and utterly Profane with new life, a new heart, and new hope. The Almighty and All-righteous God washed Paul -- the foremost of sinners -- with the precious blood of the Lamb, and gave him a clean slate.
It was as if he had never sinned.
Seven hundred years before Saul became Paul and discovered the forgiveness of God, the Hebrew prophet Isaiah wrote about Jesus:
He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him (Isaiah 53:5-8).
St. Paul recognized a vital spiritual truth you and I must also recognize and allow to sink deep into our hearts: Jesus covered us -- Paul, me, you, and every penitent sinner -- with His own back and took the lashes we each deserve to receive.
Unfathomable? The idea that God proves His love for us that even while we were shaking our fist in His face, Christ died for us (see here) -- that idea is, to me, unfathomable. When I remember my rebellions, perversions, blasphemies, even the murder of my child . . . that God should love a sinner such as I -- how utterly wonderful and unfathomable is love like that.
Isaac Watts wrote a remarkable hymn in the 18th century. I include some of the stanzas here because the words mean so much to me in light of the riches of Christ:
When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the Prince of Glory died;
my richest gain I count but loss,
and pour contempt on all my pride.
See, from his head, his hands, his feet,
sorrow and love flow mingled down.
Did e'er such love and sorrow meet,
or thorns compose so rich a crown.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.
Isn't it true? God's amazing love and grace and mercy and forgiveness -- Oh! such forgiveness -- demands our soul, our life, our all.
Questions for Reflection:
1. St. Paul was guilty of murder and horrible -- and repeated -- persecution of the Church. Yet, God forgave him of it all. Do you think God is any less willing to forgive you of your sins?
2. St. Paul, recognizing the utter majesty of God's grace and forgiveness, devoted his life to the gospel and the promotion of God's kingdom. Ought we who are forgiven be any less willing to do likewise?
3. How long has it been since you sought the comfort of our Savior in the Sacrament of Reconciliation?
Sunday, November 8, 2009
. . . When you read this you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to human beings in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and copartners in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (Ephesians 3:1-6).
When St. Paul uses the word mystery in this context – as in something hidden, or a secret counsel of God – he does not mean to imply the Jewish nation had not been given earlier insight into God’s plan to bring the Gentile nations into His Body. Paul, Pharisee as he was, well understood Old Testament passages such as these here, here, here, and here.
But the concept of God giving uncircumcised Gentiles equal standing with Jews was hidden from them. Indeed, the New Testament apostles' teaching on the subject was a veritable sea-change in their theology.
An example of how serious was the division between the two groups is illustrated, for example, by the physical barrier that existed in the Temple area separating the Jewish inner courts from the Gentile outer court. An archaeological discovery in 1871 unearthed this inscription concerning that barrier: No man of another race is to enter within the fence and enclosure around the Temple. Whoever is caught will have only himself to thank for the death which follows.
No wonder the twelve apostles of Jesus – each Jewish and raised within that culture of separation – at first thought it unthinkable that God would make non-Jews part of the same Body as they. No wonder St. Peter needed a vision from God – three times! – before he consented to enter the house of Cornelius. No wonder the other apostles demanded Peter to explain his unorthodox actions in eating with Gentiles. And no wonder Paul almost lost his life in Jerusalem after he was accused of bringing a Gentile into the Temple.
And so, St. Paul, in dealing routinely with the prevailing culture of separation felt it necessary to drive home his point several times in this epistle (here, here and here) that yes, God loved Gentiles just as much as He loved Jews – and that Gentiles were actually “members of the same body and copartners in the promise in Jesus Christ.”
French novelist Alphonse Karr seems to have been the first to use the proverb: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Unfortunately, the proverb proves true with regard to the Church.
Many Bible scholars believe the Church, in the early decades after Christ’s resurrection, was nearly exclusively Jewish. But within 30 years a shift in the majority representation occurred, and Gentile Christians outnumbered Jewish Christians. And with the shift came another division spouting an attitude of “We Gentiles are more beloved by God than you Jews.”
Needless to say, such an arrogant attitude began to affect the unity of Christ’s Body, and St. Paul spent three chapters in his letter to the Romans (chapters 9-11) to forcefully speak against such divisiveness. Indeed, he issued a stern warning to his Gentile readers that continuing in their “holier than thou” attitude places them in jeopardy of losing their own place in God’s kingdom (see here).
Clearly, there is no place in the Church for such arrogance -- which is why, I am sure, St. John wrote this: The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:9-11).
Which brings us to the 21st century. I’ve noted before in our study – and this is a good time to note it again – what the Catholic Church teaches about division – especially between Catholics and Protestants. This information is so important to the unity of Christ’s body, I include the texts here, along with the links to the site:
. . . "in this one and only Church of God from its very beginnings there arose certain rifts, which the Apostle strongly censures as damnable. But in subsequent centuries much more serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church - for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame." The ruptures that wound the unity of Christ's Body - here we must distinguish heresy, apostasy, and schism - do not occur without human sin: Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers. (Para 817)
"However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers . . . . All who have been justified by faith in Baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church" (para 818) (bold text is my emphasis).
"Furthermore, many elements of sanctification and of truth" are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: "the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements." Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church. All these blessings come from Christ and lead to him, and are in themselves calls to "Catholic unity" (para 819) (bold text my emphasis).
Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church. Justified by faith in Baptism, [they] are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers by the children of the Catholic Church. Baptism therefore constitutes the sacramental bond of unity existing among all who through it are reborn" (para 1271) (bold text my emphasis).
So how then ought we as Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic Christians live? Many months ago, in our first lesson studying Ephesians, I wrote this:
In light of the growing anti-Christian sentiment rising in many areas of America, Canada and Europe, if we do not stand together we face a very serious risk of falling separately. A house divided against itself still cannot stand, and it is prudent to remember the words of Martin Niemoller, a Lutheran pastor during the Nazi years:
"In Germany they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me — and by that time no one was left to speak up."
Niemoller’s warning is no less dire today than it was when he first penned those words. If Christians – members of Christ’s Body, all – do not find a way to focus on what unifies us instead of what divides us, we will fail in Christ's charge to the Church to evangelize the world because we have spent our energies and resources fighting each other.
Questions for Reflection:
1. If you are a Protestant or Orthodox Christian reading this study, have you ever researched answers to your questions about Catholic theology? If not, why not?
You may have difficulty finding Protestant-friendly internet sites for information, so feel free to ask me your questions.
2. If you are a Catholic Christian reading this study, have you ever researched why Protestants and Orthodox Christians believe as they do about the Eucharist, the papacy, Confession, the Blessed Mother, and other distinctively Catholic concepts? If not, why not?
You may have difficulty finding Catholic-friendly internet sites for information, so feel free to ask me your questions.
Friday, October 23, 2009
Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ (Jesus) for you Gentiles-- if, as I suppose, you have heard of the stewardship of God's grace that was given to me for your benefit, (namely, that) the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly earlier (Ephesians 3:1).
Before we look at chapter three, a word about the divisions within the books of the Bible is in order. The text itself (i.e. the words written by the various authors of the Bible) is fully inspired of God. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches (paragraphs 105-107):
God is the author of Sacred Scripture. "The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit . . . . To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.
And neither should we miss this point:
The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures (my emphasis in bold).
But while the text itself is divinely inspired, the chapter and verse divisions are of human origin and put in place for human convention. The origin of the divisions has a long history, but most scholarship places the addition of chapters and verses to the 13th century A.D. You can follow these links for further study here and here .
So, when the apostle opens chapter three with the words, "Because of this . . . " we know he is referring to his remarks immediately preceding. Unfortunately, the chapter division interrupts the flow of St. Paul's argument. So, for a quick review, I include the last few verses of chapter two, and then add the first verses of three to create a more fluent flow of the apostle's thoughts:
So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Because of this, I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus for you Gentiles . . . . (Ephesians 3:1).
The Romans thought they had imprisoned Paul. But the apostle had a different perspective. He knew Whose he was, and to Whom he belonged. He knew the Romans didn't imprison him. God did -- for reasons known only to the Almighty. But as far as Paul was concerned, that he was Christ's prisoner was sufficient for him because his imprisonment had a purpose -- that the people of Ephesus might hear and understand the gospel message, and find eternal life in the process.
Somehow, St. Paul caught a glimpse of life and its true purpose. Somehow he was able to integrate the Lord Jesus' statement into his own spirit: Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it. He who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal (John 12:24-25).
St. Paul's entire life-focus was to serve his Messiah. Here is what he wrote to the Corinthians. And here to the Romans. And here to the Philippians.
So what was it that helped St. Paul catch that glimpse of life's true purpose? To say it was the grace of God that captured Paul -- grace that captures any of us -- is always a correct answer. But to satisfy ourselves with only that answer, and not reserve some responsibility for ourselves does us -- and God -- a disservice. Too often Scripture tells us to seek after God, to seek after His righteousness, to seek after heaven for those exhortations to be incidental.
Blessed Mother Teresa said: The more we empty ourselves, the more room we give God to fill us. And St. Augustine summed it very well when he discovered: Late have I loved thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I love Thee! For behold, Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and in my unloveliness fell upon those lovely things that Thou hast made . . . . I was kept from Thee by those things . . .
St. Paul "only late" discovered that to be a prisoner of the Lord Jesus Christ grants us freedom that defines freedom. No wonder he could proclaim, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." No wonder he could demonstrate it again and again with his pen and with his life: But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
What was it that helped Paul lay himself fully at the feet of Jesus? God's grace, yes. But the apostle took it upon himself to also seek after Christ. It seems from the evidence of Scripture that when he had opportunity to serve himself or serve his Lord, he chose the latter.
And so can we . . . so must we . . . if we are to accomplish the mission God gave each of us to bring the only effective message of hope and eternal salvation to others.
Questions for Reflection:
1. What does this passage mean to you as you reflect on our call to be evangelists for Christ?
2. Read this passage. What do you think Paul's comment here has to do with our ability to accomplish Christ's purpose on earth?