Sunday, June 21, 2015

Why Do We Address God as "Father," Instead of "Mother"?

Well, because that is what Jesus did, and as Christians we don't have an independent relationship with God; we participate in Jesus' relationship.

Over the years I have heard a number of people object, "But Jesus only did that because of the patriarchal nature of ancient cultures" - the underlying assumption being that Jesus' word choice was culturally conditioned.   

The difficulty with that assumption is the freedom Jesus demonstrated throughout his ministry in breaking with the gender conventions of the time:  meeting with women privately, welcoming them to travel with him independent of their husbands, and his selection of women (unable to testify in courts of law at that point in history!) as the first witnesses to His resurrection.  His decision to name only males as apostles and address God with the masculine “Father” was not circumscribed by the outside culture.  In fact, priestesses and female deities existed throughout the Middle East as well as among the Greeks and Romans.  As the Word made flesh, Jesus’ revelation of God as Father was both free and deliberate. But why?

In Hebrew and Christian thought God is bigger than gender.  Both male and female are reflections of the Deity (Gen.1:27).  Scripture compares God to a mother (Is.49:15; Hos.11:3-4).  And yet, throughout the whole of Scripture, God is never addressed as “Mother.”  There is something about fatherhood that is more analogous than motherhood for describing God’s relationship to us.  Scripture does not come out and explain it, but I would suggest that male and female have been invested by God with an “iconic character.”  By this I mean that the differences we observe between male and female can give us insight into spiritual realities.

Think about the complementary roles the mother and father play in the conception of the child.  The father comes from the "outside," and the mother welcomes the father into herself.  The ovum produced by the mother awaits the father's sperm cell, and the union of the two produces the child’s body.  The child then grows within her mother, unable to see her father’s face until birth.   

God also plays a "Fatherly" role in every conception - coming from outside of all creation to breathe a spirit, an intellectual soul, into the child at the instant of his/her physical conception.  All of God’s actions come from “the outside” so to speak, and in this way are Fatherly.  The Church on the other hand – and the individual souls that make it up - is the  part of creation that has received God into itself and allowed him to bring forth new supernatural life.  In this analogy, whether biologically male or female, each human soul resembles the feminine.  This explains why Scripture refers to the Church as Christ’s Bride (Eph.5:22-23), and the Mother of the faithful (Rev.12:17).

As members of Christ's Body we approach God the Father through, with, and in Jesus.  In union with him we pray "Our Father, who art in heaven ..."
This post was adapted from Through, With, and In Him: The Prayer Life of Jesus and How to Make It Our Own.

Question:  If we think about the "iconic character" attached to gender, might that yield an insight as to why the ministerial priesthood has been reserved to males?  If the priest is ordained to function "in the person of Christ" in ministering to the Lord's Bride, then doesn't the priest's masculinity function as a sacramental sign of Christ, the Divine Groom?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Book Review: "The Seven Deadly Sins" by Dr. Kevin Vost

I was so incredibly honored to write the Foreword to this amazing new book by Dr. Vost. I share a portion of it here as my review of this fine work:

Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” Let me assure you: men do not come any sharper than Dr. Kevin Vost. Kevin has so fully assimilated the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and his massive Summa Theologica, that he is able to articulate it in the words of today’s man and woman in the pew. 

That you have opened Dr. Vost's The Seven Deadly Sins: A Thomistic Guide to Vanquishing Vice and Sin means that you recognize the destructive power of sin, want to understand its insidious nature, and begin the serious work of beating back its power in your life. The Seven Deadly Sins will help you do precisely that. Not only does this book present you with the insights of St. Thomas, who seemed to have synthesized the thought of all the great philosophers and theologians who preceded him; but it unites them with Kevin’s own insights as a doctor of psychology. Most importantly, however, it takes the New Testament’s claims seriously –that all growth in virtue is the result of Christ’s grace, and that we must do all in our power to cooperate with that grace (Phil. 2:12-13).

By the time you finish this book you will have set out anew on the path to Heaven. Your gaze will be sharper, your ability to evaluate the spiritual terrain more pronounced; and as a result, your steps will be more deliberate. You will have been led through a penetrating examination of conscience, given practical steps to squash vice and cultivate virtue, and directed to the powerful channels of grace Christ entrusted to the Church. And I have no doubt that, like me, you will recognize Dr. Kevin Vost as one of today’s most gifted communicators of the Church’s divine and timeless wisdom.

Book Review: "Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment" by Fr. Mike Driscoll

When Catholic Answers Press tackles a topic, I have come to expect a well-researched, well-balanced presentations. Father Mike Driscoll's Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact from Fiction About the Spiritual World did not disappoint in this regard and is a nice addition to Catholic Answers' list of titles. 

Although not expressly stated in the title, Fr. Driscoll's book is focused on exorcism. Something that immediately caught my attention was that, unlike other recent books on the topic (Fr. Gabriele Amorth's An Exorcist Tells His Story and  Interview with an Exorcist, and Fr. Thomas Euteneuer's Exorcism and the Church Militant), Fr. Driscoll is not himself an exorcist. Rather, he is a hospital chaplain with a doctorate in counseling, who wrote his doctoral disseration on the ways Catholic exorcists distinguish between demonic possession and mental disorders. (Neat twist, eh?) In the course of writing his dissertation he performed a great deal of historical research into the ministry of exorcism throughout Church history as well as interviewed a number of exorcists. Bottom line: I feel like he gives a fact-based, level-headed assessment of an often overly-sensationalized topic.

Father Driscoll believes, with the New Testament and the Church, that demons are real and that possessions do occur. He leads the reader through the New Testament data, pointing out how both the writers of Scripture and subsequent Church authorities clearly distinguish between possession and mental illness. He also points out how Scripture shows cases where possession and illness are co-morbid conditions. Father speculates that demons - bullies that they are - sometimes assault those already weakened in some way.

What I found most fascinating was the actual Rite of Exorcism. I did not realize that most exorcists used the rite established in 1614, nor did I know that the rite identified three signs that exorcists should look for to accurately diagnose a case of possession. (Fr. Driscoll points out how these three signs - speaking a foreign language, knowledge of hidden events, and displays of power beyond the subject's age and natural condition - completely rule out mistaking possession with a mental disorder.) I was surprised at how straight-forward the rite is. It was also quite interesting to read that, even though the rite gives exorcists latitude in certain places, those exorcists who follow the rite more rigidly actually report both a higher success rate (100% when the afflicted cooperate with the process) and a smaller number of sessions (twelve) needed to expel demons than exorcists who take a "wider approach." 

In his final chapter Fr. Driscoll discussed good and bad spiritual habits, with the reminder that having a solid
 spiritual life (the Sacraments, regular prayer, Scripture, sacramentals) is the best way to protect oneself from the enemy. He also included two helpful appendices: Prayers for Protection Against Demons (which is quite thorough) and Advice for Pastors and Ministers (with important cautions and a few creative suggestions for making exorcism better understood).

The only part of the book that left me uncomfortable was the chapter dealing with deliverance ministries, titled "Deliverance" Drama. "Deliverance" in this context refers to the work of helping those who suffer from lower-level demonic attacks such as temptation, opposition, and bondage/influence. The Church reserves the work of exorcism to priests appointed by their bishop, but has no such restriction, or even officially-stated position, regarding praying for, or with, someone for release from such lower-level attacks. In large part, deliverance is heard of in connection with priests and lay people involved with the charismatic renewal movement, a movement that has received numerous endorsements from our recent popes but spoken of, at least in my opinion, in a rather negative and dismissive tone by Fr. Driscoll. 

In the late 1960s, some Catholics began bringing Pentecostal spirituality into the Church. This started with students and instructors at Duquesne University who had been reading books written by Pentecostals, attending their prayer services, and inviting them to instruct Catholics in their spirituality. In addition to imitating the alleged extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit they learned of, some Catholics wished to drive out demons in the same dramatic fashion as their Pentecostal counterparts. (p.126)
I should point out that the Catechism acknowledges that God continues to impart spiritual gifts such as those seen in the charismatic renewal (see more here); but back to our discussion: Fr. Driscoll went on to discuss works produced by authors such as Fr. Michael Scanlan, T.O.R. (Deliverance From Evil Spirits) and John LaBriola (Onward Catholic Soldier), as well as several others with whom I was unfamiliar. In Mr. LaBriola's case, I know his book was endorsed by solid, orthodox Catholics such as Johnette Benkovic and Fr. Joseph Langford, co-founder of Blessed Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity Fathers (see right side of page). Fr. Driscoll quotes from the book written by Fr. Scanlan, and his co-author Randall Cirner, in the following passage:
Deliverance professionals tend to insist that their methods and only their methods, followed according to the specific steps, are safe and effective for delivering people from demons...Two such professionals explain that their deliverance method is superior because it is the most comprehensive, "Other approaches to deliverance tend to isolate on aspect of [our] approach. We do not believe that these approaches work as well as ones which integrate deliverance into a system of pastoral care...To isolate one stage is to risk a serious distortion or imbalance in gospel living" (Deliverance From Evil Spirits, 78).
I had Scanlan and Cirner's book on the shelf and, upon consultation, felt that Fr. Driscoll's quotation did not represent the original authors' overall intent. The "method" recommended by Scanlan and Cirner is meant to be wholistic, one that breaks free of an overly-narrow focus on the demonic. Allow me to quote directly from the authors:
While no two sessions are alike, an effective deliverance ministry should incorporate seven elements or stages. These stages do not have to be followed rigidly, one after another. But all stages should be present because all seven are important parts of the pastoral care for the person present for ministry...The goal is not to do a specific form of prayer or to employ any set of schema of word or actions, nor is it to mechanically implement a standard remedy for a problem diagnosed before the session...The model format for deliverance ministry will include the necessary elements. The seven stages are: (1) Preparation, (2) Introduction, (3) Listening, (4) Repentance, (5) Deliverance, (6) Healing-Blessing, and (7) Pastoral Guidance. (Deliverance From Evil Spirits, 80)
Anyway, that is my one criticism of the work. Let me end by saying that I think that Fr. Driscoll has crafted a solid, sane, well-balanced explanation of the phenomena of possession and exorcism; and I have no difficulty giving Demons, Deliverance, and Discernment: Separating Fact from Fiction About the Spiritual World my endorsement. (And as a bonus - it's one that you can read without being afraid to turn out the lights afterwards.)

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review: "The Drama of Salvation" by Jimmy Akin

I use the word "definitive" quite sparingly, but it is absolutely fitting when applied to Jimmy Akin's The Drama of Salvation: How God Rescues You From Your Sins and Brings You to Eternal Life (Catholic Answers Press, 2015).

I first learned of this book when, I kid you not, I had just finished footnoting Akin's The Salvation Controversy (2001) several times in a new book of my own. I considered it the clearest expression of Catholic soteriology to date, so I was incredibly curious to see how Akin had developed his presentation in the fourteen year interim. What I considered the core of The Salvation Controversy - Akin's Scriptural illustration of the past, present, and future aspects of justification, and his analysis Paul's statement that we are saved by faith apart from works of the law (Torah) - is here, but integrated into a much more comprehensive presentation of Catholic belief regarding how we are saved. The final portion of  the book consists of bonus material that, taken by itself, makes The Drama of Salvation a veritable source book of Catholic teaching on this subject:
  • The Council of Trent's Decree Concerning Justification (1547), the Church's most extensive, dogmatic treatment of the subject
  • The Letter of the Holy Office on Salvation Outside the Church (1949), correcting the controversial claims made by Fr. Leonard Feeney, S.J.
  • The Catechism of the Catholic Church's statements on Grace and Justification (1992)
  • Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification (1999) by the Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation
  • Dominus Iesus (2000), the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith's declaration on the centrality of Jesus Christ and His Church to human salvation
  • Two of Pope Benedict XVI's audiences (2008) treating St. Paul's teaching on justification

The bulk of the book, though, is Akin's clear, scriptural exposition of Catholic belief. I was impressed by how he consistently cut through differences in terminology between Catholicism and different streams of Protestant thought (especially Lutheranism) to reveal our areas of agreement. In his first chapter he lays out the plan of salvation as it appears in the pages of the New Testament: Repentance, Faith, Baptism (and if one should later fall into mortal sin, Confession). He then confirms the Catholic reading of Scripture with quotations from Church leaders of the late-first and early-second century. The second chapter shows, absolutely conclusively to my mind, that Christ and His Apostles taught that justification is a process with past, present, and future aspects. 

The next three chapters explain the difference between "temporal" and "eternal" salvation and the related matters of penance and indulgences. By beginning in Scripture, and then tracing the developments in the Church's offering of indulgences, a number of misconceptions are cleared away and objections answered.

The sixth chapter is perhaps my favorite. Akin gives the most insightful exposition of St. Paul's teaching on justification that I have ever read. He also leads the reader through a study of James 2:14-26. Akin exhaustively examines the role of faith and works in justification, and his analysis of Paul's use of the term "works of the Law" is top-notch. This chapter leaves no doubt that, while we are not justified through obedience to the Law of Moses, we Christians are bound to the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2; 1 Cor. 9:21) - which we fulfill through the power of His Spirit at work within us.

Chapters seven and eight are commentaries on Trent's Decree Concerning Justification and the Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification, respectively. Even if you have already read both works, I wager that you will find Akin's survey illuminating. He finishes his exposition with a well-balanced chapter examining the possibility of salvation for those who do not come to an explicit faith in Christ.

As I said, this work is a monumental development of Akin's already-illuminating The Salvation Controversy. The only element not carried over was his contrasting of Catholic teaching and Calvinism's belief in T.U.L.I.P., the theological tenets of Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and the Perseverance of the saints. Given the much greater scope of The Drama of Salvation, I do not consider it a loss, especially when Akin has made the information available online.

This is an exciting work, one that puts gratitude in your heart for the amazing salvation that Christ offers. If your goal is to deepen your understanding of salvation and sharpen your ability to explain the Gospel to others, then The Drama of Salvation is the most comprehensive resource available. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Jesus, the Great "Amen"? (A Summation of Our Faith)

James Tissot, Le Pater Noster
In the Book of Revelation, Jesus described himself to the church in Laodicea as, "the Amen, the faithful and true witness" (Rev. 3:14). We use "Amen" at the end of our prayers - when being led in prayer by another to say, "I agree, so be it," or when praying by ourselves to say "let it be done." We might also use it to express agreement with what someone has said.

Jesus used the word "Amen" much differently, though - not at the end of his statements, but at the beginning. In our modern English translations we often find it rendered, "Truly, I say to you...," or when Jesus used a double-amen, "Truly, truly, I say to you..." There are fifty such occurrences in the four gospels, twenty five in the Gospel of John alone. (Fr. Felix Just, S.J., has a wonderful summary.) Fr. Roch Kereszty, O Cist., was the first to bring this to my attention, and I want to quote from him here:
...the "Amen" of Jesus has a "hidden prehistory;" it is the final act of a dialogue between the Father and Jesus. The word of Jesus is of divine authority because it comes from the Father. Yet the Father's divine word is Jesus' own, not that of an "Outsider" as in the case of a prophetic message. Here we have a first hint of Jesus' personal identity: his absolute authority is based on his absolute dependence on his Father. (Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology, 110-11.)
Ultimately, Jesus' "Amen" is a revelation of the Trinity and of the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus is the one Who, from all eternity, streams forth from the Father. All that the Father is, He gives; all that the Son is, He receives. As the Letter to the Hebrews tells us, Jesus is "the refulgence of [the Father's] glory, the very imprint of his being" (Heb. 1;3); or, as Colossians says, He is "the image of the invisible God" (Col. 1:15). When the Son became incarnate, He revealed the Father in and through His humanity. His words and actions were those of the divine Son, the perfect image, perfect Word, of the Father (Jn. 1:1; Mt. 11:27). Jesus is the Great Amen, the faithful witness to all that the Father is and does (Jn. 5:19; Rev. 3:14) - praise God!

Alright, now lets look at something St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God" (2 Cor. 1:20).  What beauty - what an amazing summation of the Gospel:  Through grace, through our union with the Incarnate Son, we say "Amen" to all that the Father has said. We say "yes," "let it be so," to God's vision of man and woman, His vision of sexuality, of the family, of community, and of the world. Like Jesus, we receive all we are from the Father and offer ourselves completely back to him in loving gratitude. We live the Apostle Paul's call to offer our "bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God," recognizing that this is authentic "spiritual worship" (Rom. 12:1). In Christ, in His Eucharist, we reach the apex of prayer:
Through him, and with him, and in him, O God, almighty Father, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is yours, forever and ever.  Amen.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Mail from the Vatican!

Since Cardinal Ratzinger's writings figured so heavily in Through, With, and In Him, I sent a copy to both the Pope Emeritus and Pope Francis. It was pretty exciting to fish this out of the mailbox today:

Monday, June 8, 2015

Why has this blog been so dead?

Well, I have been writing; it's just that none of it has made it onto my blog. I recently finished a book manuscript for Angelico Press, tentatively titled The Letter to the Hebrews and the Seven Core Beliefs of Catholics. I am proud to say that it is the "sibling" of a new book by my good friend Kevin Vost, The Porch & The Cross: Ancient Stoic Wisdom for Modern Christians.  Each can be read on its own; but together they seek to show how revelation and philosophy, faith and reason, prepared the world - Jew and Gentile - for Christ's appearance. I am honored to say that both books have been graced with Forewords by Jared Zimmerer and Introductions by Dr. Kenneth Howell. They should be released prior to Advent 2015.

Here is a sneak peek at my study of Hebrews:

James Tissot, It Is Finished
A People PersecutedAuthorship and CanonicityThe Present Work

1. The Trinity (Hebrews, Chapters 1-3)
In the BeginningThe Son, Superior to All Created MediatorsAnother AdvocateThe Revelation of Divine Relationships Sons and Daughters in the Son

2. The Incarnation (Hebrews, Chapters 2-5)
Jesus, Fully HumanSubject to TrialsAchieving His Goal

3. The Word of God (Hebrews, Chapters 4-6)
The Word in ScriptureInspiration and InerrancyThe SeptuagintThe Deuterocanonicals, or Apocrypha Authoritative Oral TraditionsChristian Tradition Conveys God’s RevelationThe Fullness of Truth

4. Christ’s Priesthood, Our Salvation (Hebrews, Chapters 7-11)
The Earthly Temple Gives Way to the HeavenlyThe Day of AtonementA Priest in the Order of Melchizedek The New CovenantNo Longer Under the Torah – The Plan of Salvation

5. The Communion of Saints (Hebrews, Chapters 11-12)
Past Champions of FaithFrom Sheol to the Heavenly JerusalemParticipants in Jesus’s Heavenly Intercession The Purgative WayThe Reality of PurgatoryMary in the Communion of Saints

6. The Eucharist (Hebrews, Chapter 13)
Partners in the AltarThe Todah of the Risen OneChrist, Our Passover LambThe Apostolic WitnessThe Ministerial PriesthoodThe Liturgy of Eternity

7. The Authority of the Church’s Leaders (Hebrews, Chapter 13)
A Matter of RevelationThe Master of the PalaceThe Elders/PresbytersBishops and DeaconsSuccessors to the ApostlesInfallibility: Its Necessity and Limits


Appendix – Formation of the New Testament’s Canon

I've got to tell you how this project came about because it definitely wasn't planned:
I had started work on a book about devotion to the Immaculate Heart, when a friend at work came to me with a question about the Letter to the Hebrews. After we worked through his question, I shared with him that I had developed a five-part study of Hebrews over a decade ago, and had sometimes thought about revisiting it as a book project. He thought it was a great idea and, when he returned the next week with another question, remarked, "Man, I sure hope you write that book."  

I found myself thinking about that future book project as I laid in bed. I realized that I would want it to focus on seven elements instead of the original five. Hmm...was this something the Lord wanted me to pursue?

Two days later I received this email from Kevin Vost (who knew nothing of what I had been thinking):
There is a little mistake I'd like to share with you - but neither mine, nor yours! In your last email you mentioned St. Thomas, and I seem to recall your special interest in Hebrews. Well, when I ordered the beautiful Latin and English Commentaries on the Letters of Saint Paul, they "accidentally" sent me two copies of St. Thomas's Commentary on Hebrews and did not request it back. I supposed the other was for you, so I've been holding this to give to you if you don't already have a copy.
That sealed the deal for me. Instead of pursuing a book about devotion to the Immaculate Heart, it seemed like my focus should switch to Hebrews. When I shared my thoughts with Kevin, he had the wonderful idea of writing "twin tomes." And so, that is what I found myself doing for the past nine months (instead of regularly posting to my blog).

Friday, June 5, 2015

Book Review: "Filling Our Father's House" by Shaun McAfee

Shaun McAfee's Filling Our Father's House (Sophia Institute, 2015) is a gem of a book. At 100 pages, it is perfect for those perpetually on the go (as we all seem to be these days). The book is subtitled, What Converts Can Teach Us about Evangelization, and every page is filled with concrete, easily-executable suggestions for everything from developing your personal testimony to making our parishes places of true welcome. Out of Shauns' personal experience - both what was of value in leading him into the Catholic Church, as well as what could have been improved upon - he weaves a rich, multi-faceted plan for deepening our participation in Jesus's redemptive work.

Shaun understands that evangelization is far more than technique. It means bringing Christ to others - allowing them to experience Him, through us. Shaun is adament that the work of evangelizing others begins with continuing to evangelize ourselves; and he gives practical ways to do this by deepening our prayer, studying Scripture, and participating in small faith sharing groups. As I said, Shaun is concrete. He provides straight-forward steps, recommendations for further reading, and plenty of free, online resources to get you started immediately.

Chapters include:
1. Understanding the Need for Evangelization
2. Develop and Deliver Your Personal Testimony
3. Read the Bible Regularly
4. Deepen Your Personal Relationship with Jesus
5. Get Involved
6. Be Active In Your Parish

For where I am in my own life, Shaun's final chapter really spoke to me. His appendix, "Useful Tools and Resources," where he draws together all of the free, digital resources that he suggested in the course of the book, is a gold mine. This book would be a marvelous resource for a parish book club - or even better, a parish council - to read together.