Sunday, November 9, 2008

Hot N Cold

"Someone call the doctor
Got a case of a love bipolar...
'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in and you're out
You're up and you're down
You're wrong when it's right ..."

Katy Perry's lyrics always give me something to think about. (My first post was a reflection on her "I Kissed a Girl.") This evening I find them to be a perfect segue for discussing those words from Jesus two posts back, ""I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16). Everyone holds up signs reading "John 3:16;" but why not Revelation 3:16? I ask that rhetorically. It's easy to see why not - most Christians prefer a caricature of Jesus to the actual Person recorded for us in Scripture. We prefer an imaginary Jesus, who forgives our failings but makes no demands. The imaginary Jesus never gets upset - unless it's at religious bullies, and they've got it coming, don't they? He came to relieve suffering (because pain, not separation from God, is the ultimate evil) and to teach us that if we'll just be "tolerant" enough of everyone else's opinion (translation = truth does not exist in fact, but is what we individually believe it to be), peace will finally come.

That is NOT the Person we find in the New Testament - or in any kind of historical research on Jesus of Nazareth. "Caricature Jesus" isn't the type of guy that gets nailed to a Cross! (And calls his followers to join him.) The real Jesus is a passionate lover, who forces us to make a decision, "He who is not with Me, is against me" (Matthew 12:30); "Do not think I have come to bring peace to the earth, but the sword" (Matthew 10:34). No, not a sword of physical violence, but of Truth/Reality:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 12:12-13)

Jesus is like the doctor who has to tell the patient he has cancer; hiding the gravity of the situation, denying the need for aggressive treatment, wouldn't be doing the patient justice.

Recently, a friend of mine (also Catholic) got very excited when she found out I had a blog. I don't think that excitement lasted very long though; when we next spoke she diplomatically told me, "I don't agree with you on many things." She didn't elaborate; and my sense was that it wasn't the right moment to ask her to either. From little things she's shared in the past though, I fear her disagreement has to do with Jesus' s teachings regarding sexuality; and that makes me terribly sad. We are supposed to be in a real, life-giving relationship with Jesus of Nazareth, our brother and God. We can't pick and choose what parts of His message we are going to live by. That's like picking which part of the marriage vow you're going to honor. Oh, plenty of people try to do it...and thus our 50% divorce rate. Hot or cold - thinking that you can exist as "lukewarm" is self-deception. I'm not saying this as someone looking down from a summit; I think I've blogged enough about going to Confession to prove that that isn't the point. Christianity is Life-giving, it gives Divine Life; but only when we fully surrender ourselves to Jesus. We come, broken as we are, sinful as we are, and allow Him to embrace us - embracing Him in turn. We ask for, and receive, the help of His Holy Spirit. And then we have the ability to Love and Live the Reality, the Life that Jesus (the real Jesus) proclaimed!

If you're reading this, please pray for me. Please pray for my friend too - a beautiful, smart, young woman looking for her heart's passion.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Very Sad, Very Timely

I woke up this morning, thought back over the past evening I had spent in front of the television, and felt sad. Many choices were made yesterday; we've made it clear what we as a people value most, and what – no, who – we are willing to sacrifice in a blind attempt to ensure a more comfortable future. Words from the Gospel of Luke came immediately to mind, and the thought that we can now substitute the names of many other cities for that of Jerusalem:
As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city, He wept over it…“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes…I tell you, you will not see Me again until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’…because you did not recognize the time of your visitation, of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 13:34-35; 19:41-44)
We sow the wind and reap…
Last year, on the 35th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade decision, Barack Obama, our newly elected president released the following statement:
Thirty-five years after the Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, it's never been more important to protect a woman's right to choose. Last year, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5-4 to uphold the Federal [Partial Birth] Abortion Ban, and in doing so undermined an important principle of Roe v. Wade: that we must always protect women's health. With one more vacancy on the Supreme Court, we could be looking at a majority hostile to a women's fundamental right to choose for the first time since Roe v. Wade. The next president may be asked to nominate that Supreme Court justice. That is what is at stake in this election.
Throughout my career, I've been a consistent and strong supporter of reproductive justice, and have consistently had a 100% pro-choice rating with Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America.
When South Dakota passed a law banning all abortions in a direct effort to have Roe overruled, I was the only candidate for President to raise money to help the citizens of South Dakota repeal that law. When anti-choice protesters blocked the opening of an Illinois Planned Parenthood clinic in a community where affordable health care is in short supply, I was the only candidate for President who spoke out against it. And I will continue to defend this right by passing the Freedom of Choice Act as president.
He was simply reiterating a promise he made to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, six months before, when on July 17, 2007, he said, ”The first thing I'd do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."

And what is the Freedom of Choice Act? California Senator Barbara Boxer, co-sponser of the bill, had earlier released a statement explaining that:
The Freedom of Choice Act supercedes any law, regulation or local ordinance that impinges on a woman’s right to choose. That means a poor woman cannot be denied the use of Medicaid if she chooses to have an abortion…abortions cannot be prohibited at public hospitals, giving women more choices than private clinics...we respect a woman’s ability to make her own decisions, and don’t force women to attend anti-choice propaganda lectures, which submits women to misleading information, the purpose of which is to discourage abortion. This means that women serving in our country in the military overseas would be able to afford safe abortions that can be performed in a military hospital.
Tax money, state and federal, would be mandated to fund abortions. Ask God to have mercy on us - that this be a campaign promise that our new president fails to keep; we already have too much blood on our hands.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Gag Reflex

Papal infallibility = God's Gag Reflex. Irreverent of me? Don't cry "blasphemy" just yet; all will be explained.

That picture is awesome though. begin writing. Alright, lets establish what the Church means by papal infallibility. Bottom line - the pope is protected from teaching something that is false, WHEN a very specific set of criteria is met:
  1. He speaks as the Successor of Peter, Head of the Apostles
  2. upon a matter of faith or morals,
  3. with the intention of instructing the entire Church
So the Catholic Church is NOT claiming that the Pope:
  • is infallible when he reflects on the readings during a Sunday homily
  • speaks infallibly on matters of science, mathematics, economic policy, politics, etc.
  • will speak out when he should (cowardice could keep him from speaking at all)
  • will enunciate the truth as clearly as is possible
  • doesn't sin (that would be impeccability, not infalliblity; and the Church has NEVER claimed impeccability for the Pope.)
The Church's ONLY claim regarding papal infallibility is that when three criteria are met, God will RESTRAIN the Pope from saying something FALSE. (Yeah, when I called it the "Divine Gag Reflex," I was talking about a different kind of "gag" - the kind you stuff in a mouth. I know, I'm horrible. Got you reading though, didn't I?) Infallibility is a completely negative gift; God will not allow the Pope to insert something false into the official body of Truth entrusted by Jesus to the Church. God would "reflexively" act to stop such an attempt.

Where do we Catholics come up with this belief? Like everything else, we trace it back to Jesus. He made some pretty startling promises to those Apostles:
“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16)
"[The Holy Spirit] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. . .He will guide you into all the truth” (John 14:26; 16:13)
Paul the Apostle, knowing Jesus' teaching, and himself moved by the Holy Spirit, wrote of "the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). WOW - Jesus' intent was for the Church to be the place that the world could turn to hear the Truth, to get a reality check. And what measures did He, does He, take to guarantee this?

He called a fisherman named Simon, and after changing his name to Peter (Rock), Jesus told him, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). The Jewish mind of the first century, hearing those words, would have immediately shot back to the Israelite monarchy. Jesus was adopting the terminology used to refer to the Master of the Palace, or vizier - what we today would call the "Prime Minister." He was second in command after the king (2 Kings 18:18; 15:5), and as such held "the keys of the kingdom." Flip to Isaiah 22:21-23 and examine how Jesus made use of the same vocabulary in speaking to Simon-Peter.

Jesus, in announcing the Kingdom of God, was announcing that all of the promises God had made to King David about an everlasting kingdom, were about to be fulfilled. Jesus, the descendant of David, was the long-awaited Messiah; and He was renewing Israel. Israel had begun with the 12 sons of Jacob - its renewal with the 12 Apostles of King (Christ) Jesus. And Peter was to be the Prime Minister, using the power of the keys to bind God's people to Truth and the way of Love. It would be meaningless to speak of the authority of other ministers to bind and loose apart from their unity with Peter. Jesus' purpose wasn't to make Peter some type of dictator in regard to the other Apostles; in Christ’s Kingdom the greatest is meant to serve the rest. Part of Peter's service, and that of the Popes who have succeeded him in office, is to speak the final word when matters are in dispute, thus maintaining the unity of the Church/Kingdom. This service is especially important when the ones arguing are fellow shepherds.

And so we have Jesus' words to Peter, "You are Rock, and on this rock I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt.16:17-19). What is the power of hell? Deception. The devil deceives; that's always been his M.O. And to combat this Jesus gave Peter the keys - authority to speak out, definitively binding the Church to Truth and loosing it from deception.

Now, Jesus can't mean that Peter gets to flip a coin, decide what is true, and God will magically rearrange spiritual and temporal realities to make it so. God isn't manipulated! No, Peter is simply a minister in Another's Kingdom. Peter speaks to the Church and world on behalf of the King (Who has ascended into Heaven). To use the power of the keys demands a reflexive action on God's part - "gagging" Peter, preventing him in some way, if he ever attempted to teach something that was false. At the same time, when God allows Peter to teach the Church, He expects it to be adhered to. Ignoring Peter? Well, remember what Jesus had said, "“He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me” (Luke 10:16). Whenever the pope speaks in his official capacity (remember those 3 criteria I started with?) as Successor to Peter, Prime Minister of the Kingdom, the same is true.

Oh hey, I do recall Jesus talking about having a gag reflex - yes, a true, biological gag reflex. After His resurrection He told the Apostle John to write a letter to the church in Laodicea, "I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

Hey, three shout-outs before I wrap up. First, to Strunk - did you notice that I used your word "irreverent?" Second, to Pete for his encouragement and prayers. And third, to Duran Duran for their song The Reflex. I think we can all agree that that's a gift that keeps on giving.

Monday, November 3, 2008

"I Love It When a Plan Comes Together"

Powerful words, from one of our nation’s greatest (and least appreciated) heroes. I had a couple of moments this weekend when things seemed to click together, and I couldn’t help but feel like I’m getting a glimpse of Someone’s plan:

First, I'm sure you’ve noticed how Catholics often follow their praying of the Our Father, or Lord’s Prayer, with the Hail Mary. What caught my attention was how theologically profound that is. In the Our Father we petition God for everything that we will need during this day: that His way of doing things spreads through our lives and throughout the whole earth; that we be able to forgive those who have hurt us; and that we be protected from evil. And then in the Hail Mary we turn to the person who opened herself to receive these blessings like no other! With real excitement we can pray, “Hail Mary, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus!” Excitement – because in Mary we see what happens when we pray the Our Father from the depths of our heart. As John Paul II pointed out, the Hail Mary is a Christ-centered prayer; it’s all about what God did, in her! And we want the miracle of the incarnation to continue, for us to give flesh and bone to God the Son. Really, isn’t that what we’re asking for each time we pray the Our Father, for us, for every human being, to be remade in Jesus’ image? And each time we finish the Hail Mary, we ask her to pray for this too, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of death.”

The second thing that clicked with me had to do with incense. No, not that cutesy stuff from Bed, Bath & Beyond - I’m talkin’ ole-school, briquette in a censer, incense. You see, on special feast days, like this past Sunday’s All Souls Day, the priest incenses the gifts to be offered in the Eucharist. (It’s a very hip practice, going back to the Israelites’ wandering in the desert. The Book of Revelation shows the saints in Heaven offering incense to God – and then identifies that incense as our prayers [Rev.5:8]!) What finally caught my attention this past weekend though was how the priest didn’t just incense the bread and wine; he came around to the front of the altar and swung the incense out over the congregation as well. YES - we are part of the offering; we are to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. The transformation that takes place on the altar, occurs SO THAT we may be transformed. We (our thoughts, words, actions, our very beings) are to be made part of Jesus’ Love and response to the Father.

In writing this, I realize that both of the above realizations are actually only one - examples of the Gospel in miniature: “We live in Jesus and He in us; Heaven can begin right here and now.”

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Can I Get a "What What"?

"Raisin' da roof" I always love All Saints Day - giving props to our awesome older brothers and sisters. Once upon a time I felt differently, worried that honoring the saints took something away from the honor I was supposed to be giving to God alone. I realize now, however, that nothing could be farther from the truth. Let me explain:

I could stare at my two kids all day; their mom and I see them as the two most beautiful creatures, both inside and out, on the face of the entire earth. And nothing makes us happier than when someone else notices that beauty and pays them a compliment. I think that every parent has the same experience - and we feel this way because we have been made in the "image and likeness" of our common parent, God (Genesis 1:26) ! God loves it when the beauty of His children is recognized and honored. First, because, as members of His Family, doing so means that we are loving our own brothers and sisters (what parent doesn't love that?); and second, because we recognize that everything we see in the saints has God for its source. (Just like when someone "oohs and ahs" over a famous painting; in truth, they're praising not the art, but the artist).

My own prayer last night focused on the second aspect, "Lord, I am amazed by the purity and strength you poured into the Blessed Mother; the love, humility, and responsibility you filled Joseph with; the humility and simplicity of your daughter Therese..."

Hey- as I was writing this I just received a call that my pregnant sister-in-law is in the hospital. Please stop and say a prayer for your sister Becky...AND why not go ahead and ask our older siblings in heaven to do the same? Word.