Monday, December 29, 2014

An Unexpected Honor for TWIH

I just received the link to Pete Socks' (The Catholic Book Blogger at Patheos) Top 10 Picks for 2014 and was completely surprised and honored to find my Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own listed among them! I find it listed among the books of good friends like Dr. Kevin Vost and Jared Zimmerer, as well as authors who helped form my own faith, such as Scott Hahn. Let me just humbly say, "Thank You, Lord. Thank you for using such a poor instrument to write about such a mighty subject. May it be of benefit to Your children."

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tim Staples' "Behold Your Mother" - Book Review

I have enjoyed listening to Tim Staples on Catholic Answers-Live and by CD for at least fifteen years now. His knowledge is encyclopedic and his sincere love for Scripture and those seeking answers reverberates in Tim's voice. Let me assure you, the same holds true for his writing. Of the sixty-some books I own focused on Marian belief and devotion, Behold Your Mother stands out as the most comprehensive, popularly-written apologetic among them.

Tim is a specialist at laying out the biblical basis of the Catholic Faith, and he puts that finely-honed skill to work answering every conceivable question a non-Catholic might have about our Marian beliefs: her identity as the Mother of God, mother of Christians, subject of prophecy, immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, role in our redemption, assumption into heaven, heavenly intercession, and queenship. He frequently enhances our understanding of pertinent biblical passages by taking us behind the English translation to the original Greek. He also provides documentation showing how Scripture was interpreted by its earliest readers - the ones closest in time to the apostles. 

Elements that (especially) stood out to me:
  • How belief in Mary's perpetual virginity acts as a safeguard to the sanctity in which we hold marriage, the sacraments, and religious life.
  • The number of errors (historical and present day) that stem from denying Mary the title "Mother of God"
  • In-depth analysis of the title "Full of Grace" (Kecharitomene in Greek)
  • The significance of Fathers and Doctors of the Church identifying both Christ's humanity and Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant
  • How Mary is revealed as the New Eve not just at the Annunciation, but at the Cross
  • The symmetry between the Holy Family's flight into Egypt and that of the Woman of Revelation 12 into the desert
  • 200 years before we had a New Testament canon, we have written testimony from Christians on three different continents that Mary was recognized as the New Eve
  • Why Romans 3:10 ("None is righteous, no, not one...") does not contradict belief in Mary's immaculate conception or sinlessness
  • What passages like Ruth 3:9, Ezek. 16:7-8, 2 Sam. 20:3, and Deut. 24:4 have to teach us about the non-conjugal nature of Joseph and Mary's marriage
  • How the annunciation witnesses to Mary's superiority to angels, in the order of grace
  • A plethora of verses showing how Christians are meant to cooperate with Christ in bringing salvation to others
  • A clear presentation of the Catholic Church's teaching that Mary remained a virgin, not just before and after the birth of Jesus, but in the very act of giving birth (in partu)
I have read theology for decades, but that last point was not brought to my attention until three years ago. Tim's is the most thorough discussion I have read on the subject, and it will leave you with no doubt that the miraculous nature both of Christ's conception and His birth are matters of Catholic Faith.

Behold Your Mother is an amazing resource, and I simply can't recommend it highly enough. If, in the future, the Lord Jesus grants my desire to write about the heart of His Mother, you will surely see Tim's work well represented in the footnotes!

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Of Swaddling Clothes and Grave Wrappings

Today the Church celebrates the feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist, the "disciple whom Jesus loved."  Today's Gospel reading came from the end of John's Gospel, from his Resurrection narrative.  It may seem a strange choice for the Christmas season, but while at Mass I recognized a profound symmetry at work.  Let me share a couple of lines with you:
"They both ran, but the other disciple [John] outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping down to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in.  Then Simon Peter came ... and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on [Jesus'] head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself.  Then the other disciple [John], who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed." (John 20:4-8)
For John, seeing Jesus' discarded burial wrappings was a sign; it allowed him to grasp the truth that Jesus had been raised.  This takes us right back to the shepherds at the time of Jesus' birth.  The angel said, "This will be a sign for you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger."  For both John and the shepherds the wrappings acted as a sign.  For the shepherds it was Jesus' presence in the bands; but for John, His absence.  And both signs occurred in caves to which the men had been sent - the first was the cave of the Nativity, and the second was the rock-hewn tomb. In the first Jesus had been laid in a manger, most likely also carved from rock; and in the second Jesus' body rose from the rock slab on which it had been lain. I of course am not the first to see this; you can find it woven into the icon of the Nativity at left.  God's sense of symmetry is truly beyond words.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hey Friend - Worshiped An Idol Lately?

No, this isn't a post about the tripe that Catholics worship idols such as statues and icons. I have never met, nor even heard of, a Catholic who practices such nonsense; and the Catechism debunks the anti-Catholic allegation with a concise explanation (CCC 476-7; 2129-32). I have, however, met a number of Catholics - and other Christians - who choose to worship a god of their own making instead of the God Who reveals Himself to us in Christ. This came to me very forcefully a few years back in a conversation with a friend.

We were talking about something we had seen in the news and, in connection with the coverage, my friend expressed his agreement with a behavior that both Judaism and Christianity has always recognized as a sin. (No need for me to name the behavior, other than to say it is in the sexual/procreative sphere. There are an increasing number of troubling behaviors being celebrated in our culture; and the point I seek to make is applicable to all.) Because both of us are Catholic - and knowing that my friend attends Mass each week - I asked him how he could reconcile that with what God had said on the matter. I mean, Scripture clearly says that this specific behavior is a gravely serious sin. His response really troubled me - "I simply don't believe that. The God I believe in wouldn't say that."

"Whoa!" (mentally, in my best Joey Lawrence voice). My friend, I realized, had fallen prey to not just moral relativism, but - subconsciously, to be sure - idol worship. Instead of worshiping God as He is (as He revealed Himself to Israel and the Church), he had substituted his own idea of God. Now, before we go condemning my friend, we have to admit that each of us has been guilty of that at some point in our lives (and maybe we are right now...Catholic social teaching is challenging and seems to have elements that rub people of all political persuasions the wrong way). Often times, it is simply because of lack of knowledge. God's revelation of Himself and His will often have not been adequately proclaimed to us and so, we fill that void with our own notions. What we do after being  presented with the Truth, however, is decisive for our life with God.

 "But you realize," I continued, "there's only one God...I don't have my God and you have yours. He exists, objectively; and His stance on what behaviors are, in themselves, sinful doesn't change depending upon what you or I think. When God reveals His mind to us - and that's what we have in Scripture - we have an obligation to live it out."
"Yeah, but we Catholics aren't fundamentalists," my friend answered; "We interpret the Bible."
"You are correct," I said, "that we aren't fundamentalists, but by that we mean that when we read Scripture, we pay attention to what type of literature we are reading - history, poetry, apocalyptic, etc. - to understand what the author truly meant to say. Poetry expresses the truth differently than a book of history. Genesis, for example, tells about the creation of humanity in symbolic language; it is not making scientific claims.  But, once we understand the genre, and understand what God and the writer of Scripture meant to teach then we are absolutely bound to it. So, when St. Paul was inspired to write a pastoral letter and label [this behavior] a sin, telling his readers that it could separate them from God for eternity, that is God's word to us; and we really are obligated to obey it."

"But [this behavior] really has to do with two people expressing their love for each other, and isn't that what God is all about?"

"That's just it," I tried to explain.  "God is love. He is true love, and He is trying to teach us how to love.  If He says that something is sinful, then be assured that how ever loving we might mistakenly feel it is, it is not so in reality. We want to see things as they really are, not as we imagine them to be. God only has our best interests at heart."  My friend wasn't able to bring himself to reconsider his stance on this particular issue, at least not at that moment. But we remain close friends, and that tells me that he was willing to listen...and that's a wonderful first step!

As I reflected on that conversation a few more thoughts occurred to me: 
  • These false images of God that we construct are violations of the First Commandment. They truly are acts of idolatry. Those who try to "interpret" away the portion of God's revelation recorded in Scripture frequently appeal to the "spirit" vs. the "letter" of the law. Well, this is the spirit of the First Commandment! Any time we construct an image (silver, gold, or mental) and bow down to it (by giving it our obedience), we give worship to a false god and commit idolatry
  • The prophet Isaiah said some scathing things about worshiping idols: 
    • "You [idols], indeed, are nothing and your work is nothing at all; whoever chooses you is an abomination." (Is. 41:24)
    • No, [idols] are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their images are empty wind." (Is. 41:29) 
    • "All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know. And so they will be put to shame." (Is. 44:9)
  • The idea that Jesus did away with the "harsh" requirements of the Mosaic Law, and in effect rubber stamped any behavior we deem to be loving is absolute rubbish.  Jesus said that He did not come to abolish Israel's law and prophets, but to bring the to fulfillment, or completion (Mt. 5: 17). And if we look at how Jesus went about turning people from the letter of the law to its "spirit," we will quickly discover that the spirit of the law is a hundred times more demanding than the letter! (Thank goodness for baptismal regeneration and the gift of the Spirit to make it possible!) Just look four verses after it speaks of Him bringing the law to fulfillment: 
    • "You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hellof fire." (Mt. 5:21-22) 
    • “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Mt. 5:27) 
    • “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other..." (Mt. 5:38)
Oh, if only Jesus had allowed us to stay at the letter! But His intention is to make us like Himself - images of the Father. "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Mt. 5:48). But that is all dependent upon our faithfulness to God as He is, as Jesus has revealed Him to us - and not as we imagine Him to be.