Reflections on Advent – Faith

Faith is probably one of the most used words in Christianity and also concurrently the least understood. It is also a word that is used in a completely different context and meaning within the secular world, and sometimes this different meaning bleeds into the Christian meaning. Faith, within the catholic faith, is much more than just belief in something that cannot be proven by science or our senses. Faith itself actually has two meanings within Catholicism; the body of faith (what we believe) and the act or virtue of faith (loosely, how we believe).

Faith begins with the fact that we all die, and that suffering is a part of our existence as human beings. Thomas Merton wrote that “we are not at peace with others because we are not at peace with ourselves. And we are not at peace with ourselves because we are not at peace with God.” The answer to understanding the purpose of death and suffering within life is faith, and specifically the catholic faith as a whole.

We have faith in a God who has not abandoned us in our sinful ways but has revealed Himself as the Creator of the Universe and who, out of love, gave His only Son for our sake. We have faith in the Gospel, the good news of humankind, that God came down from Heaven and died on a cross for our salvation– in order to break the bondage of darkness and death over our houses. We have faith in the Church, founded by Jesus, as a real presence of the Body of Christ here on earth. Deep down we are all afraid of suffering, being alone, not being understood, not being loved. And because we are afraid we sin and we disconnect ourselves from God who, through faith, can bring light to where there is darkness in our lives.

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The object of faith is that which God has revealed through Divine Revelation. Together this is collected in what the Holy Church calls the Deposit of Faith. We have faith that this knowledge is sacred and has been entrusted carefully to the Church in order to bring souls to God. Through the creeds, through our works and through the liturgy we proclaim and manifest that Deposit of Faith and partake in the salvation of the world. We do not “just believe”, we believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth…

The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that “faith is a personal act– the free response of the human person to the initiative of God who reveals Himself” (CCC 166). This simple definition is why we light the Second Advent Candle for faith. Mary’s response upon being visited by the angel is an act of faith that is clear and obvious which is why the story is relevant almost two thousand years later, and certainly relevant during the Advent season of preparation. Mary as a virgin is biologically incapable of giving birth to a human being. Today we often like to look back at ancients as dull beings looking to the sky for the answers to everything, but rest assured they understood the basic mechanics of how each of them came into the world– it took a woman and a man having sex with one another. And Mary simply did not meet that criteria. Let alone the fact that the angel was telling her she would birth the Son of Man! It simply was not possible for any of it to happen.

But she does not argue. She does not ask questions or ask for time to deliberate. Her answer is clear and unequivocal, “be it unto me according to thy word.” Amazing. What faith, what response to the initiative of God. Faith was not a feeling for Mary, it was not something that depended on whether or not she woke up feeling pious that particular morning of the Visitation. Faith was much more than that to Mary and indeed to all faithful Christians.

There is an old Chinese story about Fact, Faith and Feeling that is entirely descriptive of my point here. While Fact, Faith and Feeling are walking together along the top of a narrow wall, Faith can ensure him and feeling stay steady as long as he keeps his eyes on Fact, but if Faith looks away from Fact and turns to Feeling, Faith and Feeling fall off of the wall (Fact never falls). It is a fact for Mary that all things are possible with God and therefore she has faith that what the angel is telling her will come true. That is Faith keeping an eye on Fact and leaving Feeling in the backseat– the only way they all stay on the wall.

This reflection is dedicated to the amazingly beautiful collections by Alex Markovichat at Glitchy Preacher. What an amazing window into a world almost utterly unknown to the rest of us, head over to Glitchy Preacher to learn more about Russia and marvel the amazing collection of artwork they have curated. If you enjoy what’s there, give them a follow (good things happen to bloggers when they get follows).

Almighty Father,
give us the joy of your love
to prepare the way for Christ our Lord.
Help us to serve you and one another.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen

Does the Bible condemn same-sex marriage?

  • What does the Bible say about homosexuality?
  • Is it a sin to be a homosexual?
  • Can a person who is homosexual also be a Christian?

My frankness here is totally intentional: the Christian Bible, when we actually take the time to read and understand it as a whole, neither condemns nor permits homosexuality as we have come to understand it in modern times. There are a total of six references to homosexuality (and even with this conclusion we are loosely using the term homosexuality) in the Bible. Surprisingly, if you were an alien who was foreign to this planet and you spent a few minutes listening to any Christian talk radio show or television program (or read Christian tagged WordPress posts), you might be under the impression that homosexuality and sex are the focus point of the Bible. This is simply not the case. The Bible spends more time talking about why you shouldn’t wear two pieces of cloth on your body or plant two different seed types in a single field than it does about having sexual relations with a person of the same sex. It certainly talks a lot more about love and acceptance (straight from the mouth of Jesus Christ Himself no less) than about condemning this and that person for such and such reason. Again, if you were foreign to this world and you listened to most Christians speak you might think that the whole book was littered with “condemn this” and “spite that,” which again is not the case.

The most famous reference to homosexuality, and the one that is trod out in each and every discussion on the topic by seemingly devout Christians, is the story of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. We all know how it goes, apparently the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah where such an abomination in the sight of the Lord that He sent angels to investigate the problem. While these angels were visiting in the form of human males, the house they were staying in was encircled by an angry mob who demanded that the owner and host, Lot, send the strangers out so that “they may come to know them.” The modern English translation describes the mob as being all of the male citizens of the town. However, the Hebrew phrase in the original text actually would more accurately describe the entire townsfolk (read: male and female) coming out and surrounding the house. Never mind the clear implications that the take-away from this story is that we should not gang rape people and we should protect our guests when they are strangers in our home (probably a great lesson for ancient civilizations where being a stranger in a foreign land was extremely dangerous). Modern Christianity instead focuses on the (false) fact that the group was male and that they demanded that other males come out to be raped. To some modern Christians there is link between modern homosexuality especially between two people who are engaged in a loving and exclusive relationship and having an angry mob demand the ability to gang rape strangers. But in reality and in Christianity there actually is not a link. We are told later on that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by a pillar of fire because “the outcry against its people [had] become so great before the Lord.” This is of course after Lot had offered his two virgin daughters to the angry mob to “do to them as you please” (never minding the extremely immoral action here). And after Moses and the Lord had a talk which pretty much ended in the Lord wagering that he would destroy an entire city if he could not find a single good person (again, we can just gloss over the moral implications of a God who simply wipes creation off of the face of the planet at whim).

Leviticus condemns sexual relations between men. It does not mention sexual relations between women which either means it is permitted or it was simply overlooked by the framers of the Law. We also recall that the Law rejects the mixing of meat and dairy, the murdering of people who do any action on the Sabbath and the permits the outright oppression of women. It is hard to overcome the specific clauses of the Jewish law today unless we gain a better understanding of where they come from, why they exist in the first place. Let’s not forget the historical perspective in Scripture and the fact that we know that the Book of Leviticus was written at a time when the Jewish population was very small and surrounded by Babylonian influence while in exile from Israel. At a time when Jewish leaders were afraid of the small group being overcome by the powers that surrounded them. It is understandable then that this Law would primarily serve to sustain the small group of people. And that is exactly what the most provocative sections of the Law seek to achieve. When we understand the historical context of Leviticus we can digest the Law in a more modern sense. We know that the Lord is Justice and there is nothing inherently just in cherry-picking law in application and yet this is exactly what happens when Christians rely on Leviticus so much to support their position on homosexuality. Ironically, they will state this position while wearing two different pieces of cloth on their body, after having just consumed a delicious meal of pork with a side of dairy and while standing before a field planted with two different strains of seed (all violations of the same Law they are smacking against a minority). Now there are rules within the Law that are still relevant for us, and we know this because Jesus actually said that they were important when He established the New Covenant (thus fulfilling the First). These are the Ten Commandments. Interestingly, the Ten Commandments represent a certain moral code that is somewhat universal across time and space in our humanity. We (the collective humanity ‘we’) have all almost always agreed that murder in cold blood is immoral. We have always looked down on stealing and cheating. These are moral codes which are written on our hearts because they belong to God and God made each and every one of us. There is nothing in the Ten Commandments about being in a loving relationship with a person of the same-sex. And I would say that this should mean the world to the Christian. It should not be a game of pick the cherry to define what is essentially a theologically weak position to support being against homosexuality and same-sex marriage as we understand them today. And certainly it is no pathway to condemning a same-sex relationship that is chaste and exclusive as any other Christian relationship ought to be.

  • What does Jesus teach about homosexuality?
  • Does Jesus’ teachings on love and acceptance relate to same-sex marriages within the church?

Christians will often try and make the debate about homosexuality and same-sex marriage “simple” by pointing to the story of Sodom and the provision in Leviticus and will say “Jesus would condemn the homosexual.” Like most things that seem simple and clear cut, there is actually more here than what meets the eye. For starters, it is dishonest from a Christian perspective to start any discussion on any topic without starting with Christ and ending with the Law He fulfilled. The Bible from a chronological perspective starts with creation and moves through Abraham, Moses and the prophets all leading up to the birth of Christ and His death and resurrection. But the Bible from a Christian perspective works backward with His Death and Resurrection as the focal point and moving back through the prophets. And there is a very important reason for this, while we stumbled through the Old Testament as humanity we were like a hiker with a poor flashlight. We got glimpses of the Lord and our position within the universe, but it was never made clear to us and this is evident in some of the wild and crazy things that happen in the Old Testament. And then comes a friend with a bright light, brighter than any star including the sun. And our path is illuminated. And just like that hiker, we can see our entire path and beyond with this new Light. That Light is Christ. So an honest Christian does not waste their time stumbling through the dark because, as Saint John tells us, we have the Word now among us. Why would we blindfold ourselves and hike the path when we have daylight to guide us? So let’s start with Christ.

Christ says absolutely nothing about homosexuality. Period. He does, however, say a lot about love and acceptance. And He does a lot to show this acceptance in practise. For example, He dines with a tax collector who would have been the most hated and reviled person in any ancient city of His time. There is most certainly a parallel here between the tax collector and those we have made the most hated and reviled people in society (homosexuals are pretty high up on that list by the way). If Jesus was here today, I truly believe that without question, He would attend a Pride Parade and it would rile up many within the Church establishment (much the same as it angered the Jewish establishment when He ate with the tax collector). He also says something very powerful during the Sermon on the Mount which I think has real life application today: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” and “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Ironic that most militant Christians would actually quote both of those Beatitudes to justify their opposition to same-sex marriage, but they have terribly missed the mark here. For the last Beatitude wraps up the entire Sermon perfectly, “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in Heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Again, the militant Christian will attempt to claim that in modern society they are being oppressed by having to give up their beliefs in the name of the same love and acceptance that Christ directly preaches, you tell me who is bearing false evils against who in this argument? I think it is pretty clear.

Following the resurrection and ascension of Christ, the Apostle Paul writes that laying with a man is an abomination before the Lord. The only problem is that we are cherry picking to the extreme his entire letter when we confine that statement to just being about homosexuals. Let’s take a look at the entire passage:

Therefore God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons due penalty for their error.

But Saint Paul is not talking about modern homosexuality. He is talking about lust and lustful sexual acts. He is talking about the trends of his own time where powerful men took boy slaves as sex toys and woman often the same with their male servants. This was seen as lavish and unholy because it is lavish and unholy. Most people today (include almost all homosexuals) would agree just the same as Saint Paul is pushing us to see. However, we have twisted this powerful message into something so small and insignificant that we have lost sight of the meaning. This line could very well to applied to same-sex relationships, in that they ought to be between two people who love one another and that we should consider promiscuous sexual acts to be immoral because they are a form of degrading the human body and spirit. This applies to opposite-sex relationships as well. And we do see what happens when a person engages in irresponsible serial sexual relationships with no end, there is often a physical and mental toll on the person over time. This is what Saint Paul is getting at, this is how this passage is supposed to be understood. It is not about homosexuals.

There is absolutely no guidance in the Bible that would offer any insight on how we should deal with same-sex relationships as we understand them today. Aside from the clear message of love and acceptance. This is not a carte blanche for members of the gay community to turn to sexual relationships outside of marriage and to engage in promiscuous sexual lifestyles. In fact, same-sex couples are called to the same level of fidelity, honesty, love and exclusivity as opposite-sex couples and even single people. This is the Christian way. However, because we have cast out homosexuals writ large from the Christian community we have essentially forced a life of sinfulness on to an entire group of people, we have caused a group of people to become persecuted and we have done it in the name of Christ (sound familiar). We do not permit same-sex marriage in the Christian church, so we have condemned the good gay Christians who want a life together with the same amount of Christ-like love and support as the heterosexual couple from enjoying the fruits of marriage. This is our sin as Christians and our problem as Christians to fix.

Blaise Pascal was a famous mathematician and part-time philosopher who, while very sick and dying in his deathbed, scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper which were posthumously complied and became known as Pensées (French for ‘thoughts’). There was a gem of logic in what we now call Pascal’s Wager. Basically, he concluded that it was better to believe in God because if you were right than you enjoyed eternal life and if you were wrong than you suffered eternal punishment. Conversely, if you didn’t believe and were wrong you were punished and if you were right you gained nothing in the after-life that didn’t exist. I’ve always had a fondness for this wager because it can be understood by the pagan without an entire introduction to the Bible and Christian thought. It can also be applied to how Christians should act as Christians. For example, in the face of an unclear moral question is it better to condemn or to accept. If we condemn and we are right we gain satisfaction in the face of the Lord. If we condemn and are wrong we face damnation. If we accept and are wrong we at least followed the example of Christ. If we accept and we are right than we gain satisfaction. I believe that acceptance over condemnation in the face of unclear moral questions is a defence which would be acceptable to God on Judgement Day. I, for one, would rather stand before God to justify why I accepted and loved so and so regardless of their actions over standing before God to justify why I cast away one of His creations.

Reflections on Advent – Hope

In his book Back to Virtue professor Peter Kreeft writes that hope is the “forgotten virtue of our time.” For him, hope means hope for heaven which the daily grind of modern life does not inspire us to look upward and therefore actively thwarts. Or as he beautifully puts it, “hope means that our heads do not bump up against the low ceiling of this world; hope means that the exhilarating, wonderful and terrifying winds of Heaven blow in our ears.”

While I absolutely agree with the sentiment of hope that Kreeft presents as the opening up of any limitation of this earthy world. I disagree somewhat that hope is entirely lost on this world. I might dare say that hope exists in more measure than faith does within our modern world (but that is a topic for another reflection post). Hope is not an action in and of itself, hope is the motivator of action. Just as how gasoline in and of itself does not make the car move, it simply provides the energy for the movements of all of the parts to occur in such a way and in such conditions that you are able to safely control the vehicle on the road. Hope is certainly not tangible, indeed none of the virtues are tangible, but hope has a presence that can be felt, especially at times when it is fleeting.

The best example of this I can think is given in a movie with Robin Williams called Jacob The Liar. In the movie Williams plays a Jew in the ghetto during the Nazi occupation of Poland. Through a series of (funny, because Robin Williams) events, a rumour starts within the ghetto that he has a radio and listens to broadcasts from the BBC about allies making advances against the Germans. I won’t spoil the movie beyond this (because I highly recommend watching it yourself if you haven’t), but what is important for this post is the hope that is generated and surrounds Williams’ character– something he himself comes to realize despite being a perpetual pessimist. Some people in the ghetto commit suicide because they lose hope of anything changing for them in the ghetto, some people change their dark thinking because of the hope that Jacob brings to the people with his stories from the radio. This hope keeps the people going, and interestingly enough it keeps Williams’ character motivated to continue to take risks and obtain information to keep the hope alive.

It is in this spirit that we enter into the Advent season– reminding ourselves and reliving the hope of the people of Israel during a very important and turbulent time in their history. It is almost 500 years before the birth of Christ and we find ourselves in Judah with a prophet named Jeremiah who has access to the great courts of the land. Jeremiah speaks with tremendous authority, so great that kings listen to his every word– and this is because the words that Jeremiah speaks do not come from a man, but from God Himself.

And it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that this word came unto Jeremiah from the Lord, saying,

Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day…Then Jeremiah called Baruch the son of Neriah: and Baruch wrote from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord, which he had spoken unto him, upon a roll of a book. Jeremiah 36:1-2, 4 (KJV)

What Jeremiah says is in fact so controversial and so clear that the writings we have of it today in the Bible have actually been edited several times over by Jewish scholars. The meaning has not changed, but there is strong literary evidence to support edits within the book of the prophet Jeremiah which seek to soften the blow of what the prophet foretells. And there is something even more unique in Jeremiah as a prophet from God, he speaks of the coming of a king that would be like David of old who would unite Israel and Judea. The prophet Ezekiel speaks clearly of the coming of the Messiah, or anointed one:

And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land:

And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all…And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. Ezekiel 37:21-22, 24 (KJV)

This is the hope that the people of Israel have for the restoration of the people of God. And we share this same hope today because when Christ came He spoke His return and day of judgement. This is when He will take his authority and place in the Kingdom of Heaven and every knee shall bend to His Holy Name. But first today we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God. Isaiah tells us to listen to the voice in the wilderness that cries out: prepare the way of the Lord. We put away all things of sinful lust and sins of the flesh and we prepare our bodies and minds for the coming of our Lord– the coming of God. Soon the curtain between the sanctuary and the people will be torn, and the link between man and God created in Jesus Christ. Death will be conquered and the cycle of sin will be broken by the one of likeness of man, as a Son of Man, who will come and unite all people under His rule and dominion.

But first we wait, we sit silently, patiently in the desert waiting for the voice of God.

This reflect is dedicated to BeautyBeyondBones whose Christian faith and incredible spirit pours forth from her blog and into the world. A truly inspiring Christian blogger who exhibits the kind of hope I am struggling to convey to you here in words– certainly worth a follow this Advent season.

God of mercy and consolation, help us in our weakness and free us from sin. Hear our prayers that we may rejoice at the coming of your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Site Changes

There will be some changes to this blog coming up that include category changes, tags and overall look. There will also be some new content being rolled out shortly.

Be sure to check back!

Edit #1 (24 Jul): I’ve made changes to the category structure. There will be three themed routine posts made on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Occasional opinion pieces will be Editorials or Reflections and Reblogged items have their own category. Tags have also been grossly simplified.

Edit #2 (24 Jul): Many older posts will be reworked and republished in the upcoming days to conform to the new routine post method as well as the slight cosmetic changes to the site. I am entirely unsure whether or not the reposting will work, so be prepared for some minor issues potentially.

Edit #3 (26 Jul): I’ve changed the top bar menu around to reflect the new categories, moved the Vatican and Anglican Communion links to the Theological tab and added a new page called Book Recommendations.

New Death Penalty Teaching

The big news out of the Vatican today (not a phrase you see often), is that the Pope has approved a reworded portion of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, specifically paragraph 2267 which will now read:

Recourse to the death penalty on the part of legitimate authority, following a fair trial, was long considered an appropriate response to the gravity of certain crimes and an acceptable, albeit extreme, means of safeguarding the common good.

Today, however, there is an increasing awareness that the dignity of the person is not lost even after the commission of very serious crimes. In addition, a new understanding has emerged of the significance of penal sanctions imposed by the state. Lastly, more effective systems of detention have been developed, which ensure the due protection of citizens but, at the same time, do not definitively deprive the guilty of the possibility of redemption.

Consequently, the Church teaches, in the light of the Gospel, that “the death penalty is inadmissible because it is an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person”, and she works with determination for its abolition worldwide. (emphasis added)

This news is not entirely new because Pope Francis spoke last October about wanting to review the Church teachings on the death penalty and it was a topic during the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization that took place that same month. This English text is the fruitful effort of that council as well as the work of Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

The new text was introduced with a letter from Cardinal Ladaria where he explains that this is not a new doctrine or a contradiction from previous teaching, but is a natural evolution of our understanding of the dignity of humans:

If, in fact the political and social situation of the past made the death penalty an acceptable means for the protection of the common good, today the increasing understanding that the dignity of a person is not lost even after committing the most serious crimes.

Personally, I have never supported the death penalty. I went to a Roman catholic school and I remember very clearly in grade 9 watching Dead Man Walking about Sister Helen Prejean and her work with Matthew Poncelet during his time on death row. I consider the greatest sin of a state to be the murder of innocent citizens, and the fact that we are incapable of knowing for fact the guilt of any person (even in seemingly clear cut murder cases) means that there is always a risk of the state murdering an innocent person and thus the death penalty is immoral. That is the logic that I am able to use to justify my position. And it is rooted in the dignity of the body, being a creation of God that we have no right to extinguish (even with seemingly good reason). I am therefore certainly not upset that the Pope and the church have taken this position on the death penalty, but my catholic spider senses are tingling here…Cardinal Ladaria is stretched to explain that this is not new doctrine, and he does it by saying that it is our secular understanding of the dignity of the body that has informed the church’s refined position on the matter. The problem with that thinking is that the source of the dignity of the body does not come from our secular understanding– no university professor or philosopher has articulated any powerful message as to why I should care about my brother– it comes from our understanding of our relationship with God and the fact that each and every one of us are created uniquely by God. We therefore all have certain rights and dignity that comes from that fact. This is the source of western human rights. We do not have rights because we are a collection of atoms, we have rights because we are creatures of God. Nothing new has been revealed recently about the dignity of the body. It is part of the Deposit of Faith and has been present since Christ’s Resurrection when the body was glorified. It is a core teaching of the faith that stretches back to the Jews in exile and their understanding of how the world was made– man being made in the image of God and all. So I am personally at a loss to understand where the good Cardinal is coming from when he asserts that this is not new doctrine.

And this is where I am going to depart from the Roman church. They were wrong, and have been wrong on the death penalty for a long time. Their understanding of the dignity of the body is sound, but they made the error long ago of caving to secular and temporal political opinions against the Will of God which was clear in the Deposit of Faith. We know why the church endorsed the death penalty, it had been done for centuries around the world and was being done within advanced western societies (hello United States of America) and the church was not willing to go down into a fight with the state about the issue. It was political and the Roman church failed her faithful in this teaching. And today they are continuing the sin because of their own pride, they cannot admit that they were wrong and are now making a course correction, instead we get a very smart Cardinal contorting himself into all sorts of wild positions in order to justify what is essentially a new or rather corrected doctrine because of the fact that the Roman church puts more emphasis on an appearance of never being wrong rather than just admitting it is not how the church works at all– it is not how the Body of Christ works at all. This is yet another example of Roman church leaders using weak logic to paper over a major sin of the church of the whole, the sin of pride believing that somehow they are incapable of impressing their own human sin and error onto the church that very much exists within the world and is influenced by the broken and sinful humans.

It is good news that the Roman church is finally teaching proper catholic doctrine as present in the Deposit of Faith concerning the death penalty. But it is a sad that they continue to try and fool the faithful in thinking they were not wrong to teach acceptance before, or that this is not a new or complete change in teaching on the subject. I suppose I can chalk up not being made to feel like a fool when Cardinals and the like try to sells these illogical lies to another reason why I am happy to have left the Roman church.

The Authority of Rome

You might have missed it, but Ben over at Politics for Catholics and I had what I consider to be a very interesting discussion on the question of authority within the Church and specifically the authority of the Bishop of Rome. This discussion took place in the comment section of my post on 185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism. Our discussion was frank but respectful and dare I say took place between two well-informed catholics (he might be skeptical the catholic claim on my part, but that is at the soul of the issue so it can certainly be excused). But in the end I have to agree with his closing remarks here:

I think both of us might benefit from a more in-depth examination of papal infallibility. I know I’m not educated enough in the subject to get much deeper. I am pretty sure the last time the pope spoke infallibly was in 1950. What I came to recognize in becoming Catholic was 1. There is a historical basis for the papacy and 2. There is a practical basis for the papacy. I’m willing to discuss those two aspects at greater length if you like. But how/when infallibility/dogma/doctrine takes place and the history of this development of papal authority seems outside the scope of this comment section and my poor little brain…

I find myself able to admit clearly that I believe in everything about the catholic church, those parts of which reside within the Roman Church, and to some degree the Anglican Church (certain within Anglo-Catholic traditions), and the Eastern Orthodox Church. However, specifically with the Roman Church, I find myself unable to accept the supremacy of the Pope and how that manifests in the infallibility of the Bishop of Rome on matters concerning faith and morals. I cited many reasons why I have doubted this particular doctrine as being suspect in the Editor’s Manifesto of this blog and as well in more detail in the aforementioned comment section with Ben. And Ben certainly brings up very valid points about authority and oneness of the church which I do not disagree with but I am able to separate catholicism as articulated in the Creeds and the marks of the church and this particular doctrine.

So this is call out of sorts. With an open mind I would like to know what you think about the doctrine of Papal infallibility. Bonus points if you read the comment thread in the aforementioned post and comment on any points raised by Ben or myself. Help us better understand the doctrine itself from the perspective of the Church and from outside as well, and if anything else your own personal opinion. Leave a comment below!

A Word on Orthodoxy

I have had a few people message me concerning my last post, specifically about how I defined ‘orthodox’ as being an emphasis on early church liturgy and worship. The first few messages I tried to address privately with the individuals in question, but since a few more have landed in my inbox, I decided to write up a quick hot take on orthodoxy and how it is a word and term that gets used in such a perverse manner within Christianity today.

Around the end of the Middle Ages a movement began to take form within the Christian church in Europe. There was a desire to go back to a more “pure” church that was more like what the church would have been for early believers throughout Israel and the entire Roman world immediately and shortly following the Death and Resurrection of Jesus. When we speak of the church in that period we call it the patristic church. There is a spiritual and temporal reason for this push to go back to how things were done originally within the church. First from a spiritual perspective, the men and women who established those practices were closer to Christ in terms of time and space than we are, so that could give them more insight than we have today regarding what Christ’s intention was for His church. And secondly, from a temporal perspective, without any sort of guidance in the face of multiple forms of worship and adoration, the Church Fathers concluded (no doubt with the guidance of the Holy Spirit) that the best litmus test to determine what would be good and bad liturgy should be whether or not it was practiced in the patristic Church.

So having this historical perspective in mind regarding roots of the movement to turn to the early church for guidance in how liturgy should look today, we can say that orthodoxy is a desire to justify all forms of modern worship and liturgy using the rites and customs that were developed by the early church. True orthodoxy goes a step further and says that only those rituals and customs established by the early church are pleasing in God’s eyes and validates a human action as liturgical, orthodoxy is embracing a single form of liturgy to the exclusion of all others. It is important to note that orthodoxy should not be confused with the development of liturgical forms of worship via sola scriptura. An example of this would be an evangelical church that baptizes anyone who walks in the front door on any given Sunday on the grounds that Scripture does not explicitly state a catechist period is required. Interpreting Scripture alone personally and developing modern liturgy around that unilateral understanding of the Bible is not catholic and it certainly is not orthodox. To go back to the baptism example I used, we know that in the early church that there were established and enforced time periods for a potential convert to Christianity, and that catechism classes were a fixture of the early church right from the start. Taking that historical fact and building it into our liturgical practice today is exactly how true orthodoxy manifests itself within the church. It is orthodox that we have Christian schools for our children, adult initiation programs for converts and an entire liturgical form around the act of baptism.

But the problem with how the word orthodox is used today is that it has been warped to really mean ‘conservative.’ Meaning, a person or catholic who adheres to the traditional precepts of the church (but more often it specifically relates to how one see social issues within the church). This is wrong. It is wrong because what this little change in meaning of the word orthodoxy does is paper over partisan positions within the church using ecclesiastical terms. And if you are an Anglo-Catholic you probably hear it all of the time, that priest who wears his cassock after mass when speaking with parishioners during lunch is described as being “very orthodox” by parishioners who are not used to seeing a priest in a cassock. Or a person will write on a Christian blog that they are “orthodox” and therefore will never accept gay marriage as being a Christian concept. Who gets to be married by the church is not a question of orthodoxy, it is a question of church teaching and Biblical interpretation, which are entirely different things. Whether or not we have a marriage ceremony at all is the orthodox question in that mix. If a church suddenly decided that marriage was no longer a sacrament worthy of a liturgical movement, that would be unorthodox (there are churches that practice this, they are unorthodox). The fact that some churches allow same-sex couples to engage in the beautiful liturgical movement that is the Christian wedding ceremony is not unorthodox, it is the application of church teaching within a very orthodox practice of two people going to church together for their special day to witness before their friends, family and God their Christian commitment to one another. It saddens my heart to scroll through the ‘Christian’ or ‘catholic’ tags here on WordPress and see post after post of Christians attacking other Christians for not being orthodox or being too orthodox over a debate of whether or not the priest should face the people or not during mass. They miss the mark because while they are fighting over this trivial issue, there are actual unorthodox churches that have gone away entirely with a organized form of worship that includes an officiant– that is unorthodox. It is not unorthodox for a pastor to set up a youth geared mass with music from instruments like guitars and drum sets. It is unorthodox to conduct a so-called Christian service with only that music and nothing else, saying that the music alone gives us the Eucharistic form of worship we need and that God instituted for us during the Last Supper.

So how do you avoid this very common misunderstanding of the word orthodox and it’s use within the church? Before you label something orthodox or unorthodox, ask yourself if this wasn’t a spiritual issue but a temporal one, would you find yourself using the word ‘conservative’ instead of orthodox or ‘progressive’ instead of unorthodox. If that is the case, chances are you are not using the term properly. If you are calling yourself orthodox because you like to discern yourself from your fellow Christians who believe in Christian same-sex marriage than you are using the word improperly. If you are calling yourself orthodox and you show up to a church that never prays the Kyrie together (literally the oldest form of worship we know in the church) and this troubles you than you are bang on the definition. Partisan categorizations, even ones that are given fancy ecclesiastical terms to paper over the temporal labels, have no place within any Christian church. We are not conservative Christians or progressive Christians or classic Christians or [insert temporal partisan adjective here] Christians– we are Christians. And we are part of the catholic church, which means our Christianity is universal, meant for all, regardless of whether you are a conservative, progressive, liberal or otherwise when you are not sitting the pews. We undermine a legitimate catholic principle of justifying the sacredness and importance of our liturgy using practices from the early church (orthodoxy) when we remove the true meaning from the word orthodox. We give some form of legitimacy to truly unorthodox liturgy when we try and take this term and apply in within the church in a way it was never meant to be used.

185 Years of Anglo-Catholicism

Many Anglican Catholics are probably already aware that this past July 14th marked the traditional commencement of the Ango-Catholic Movement within the Anglican Church with a sermon by John Keble at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford. I’ve pulled this quote from Ritual Notes via The Anglophilic Anglican concerning the event:

“Most Anglo-Catholics know that 185 years ago today, John Keble ascended the pulpit at the University Church of St Mary’s in Oxford to deliver the sermon at the opening of the Assize Court. If the date is not remembered, the result certainly is. John Henry Newman wrote that this sermon, easily forgotten during any other time, was the beginning of the Oxford Movement.”

I am personally a recent convert to Anglo-Catholicism from the Roman Catholic Church. I was raised Roman Catholic and attended a conservative Roman Catholic school from junior kindergarten to grade 12. The fact that I am not entirely comfortable using the word ‘convert’ when I speak of my recent membership in the Anglican Church and specifically the Catholic wing of said church, is proof of the complexities that dominate the catholic debate within the Anglican Church and indeed among many protestant flavours of Christianity.

Because I was raised Roman Catholic I spent the vast majority of my life under the impression that the Bishop of Rome and the entire Roman Church had a monopoly on the word ‘catholic.’ I’ve always believed (as per the Creeds) that the catholic church is the one, true, holy and apostolic church founded by Christ. I just, like many Roman Catholics, equated ‘catholic’ with Roman and the Pope and all that came along with that system. I was first introduced to the idea of universal catholicity (specifically the Branch Theory), or the core of the Oxford Movement– which is quiet simply that the Roman Church does not hold court over what is catholic and what is not– a few years ago after a Roman Catholic commentator who I had great respect for left the Roman Church after having an epiphany over social issues within the church. His leaving the Roman Church and taking up worship in the Anglican Catholic church piqued my interest and I began to research. I learned that what made a church catholic was not adhering to the will of Rome or speaking in Latin but rather it was a staunch devotion to the Creeds, to orthodoxy (meaning placing emphasis on the original forms of worship of the Church) and to an understanding of a truly universal church founded by Christ. I always knew that I was a catholic, if not because I do not feel like I am worshiping God in a manner that is pleasing in His sight unless there are bells and smell (as those who criticize the richness of catholic liturgy like to say). I knew I was a catholic because I believed firmly in the Creeds– never, even in the darkest and loneliest moments in my faith have I doubted the articles of the Creeds. And I knew I was catholic because I had a deep conviction that Christ did not found a fragmented and broken form of Christianity with sects fighting between each other each holding a nugget of truth, I firmly believe that the catholic church is the one Christian church founded by Christ.

But here is the kicker: catholicism can never be confined to one single sect. Catholicism is universal, it is applicable to all people, all races, all tongues because it is the Body of Christ here and present on earth. And because we are all creations of God, no matter where we come from or what we do in this life, we can all be part of and served by this catholic church.

I am an Anglican Catholic today because I do not believe that catholic is the same as being Roman. I believe that the Roman church places too much emphasis on culturally important aspects of the faith (like not eating one hour before Mass) to the point that what is dogma and a core belief and what is a cultural or best practice is often just lumped in as essential all around. I also believe that the doctrine of the Supremacy of the Pope is flawed and uncatholic– there is nothing universal about linking the movement and spirit of the universal church to one arbitrary geographical location here on earth. I also take issue with doctrine that has come out of the direct authority of the Pope such as Papal Infallibility and the Immaculate Conception– I do not see these as core catholic concepts, but they are certainly Roman.

“The Catholic Revival in the Church of England had nothing to do with gin, lace, and backbiting, as is often caricatured. Yes, elaborate ritual and church building followed in the next generation, but this was a logical development of the belief that the Church is not the same as the Post Office. [Or, as I sometimes put it in defending the use of traditional language in worship, “The liturgy – the worship of God – is not Uncle Joe’s barbecue.”] The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of our lives and not the same as chicken tetrazzini at the weekly Rotary Club. The development of ritual and devotion was the servant, the handmaid, to the truths Keble turned our minds to 185 years ago.”

I have never felt more catholic, more Christian than when worshiping and sharing fellowship in an Anglican Catholic church.

Christ in Social Media and Current Affairs

The world is a complex and a complicated place. There is a lot going on whether we are talking about the local level, around your community, the state/provincial level, the federal or national level and right up to the international community. In our modern age, we seem to be bombarded with current events that are happening all around the world. The 24 hour/7 days a week news cycle and the instantaneous nature of the internet have collided to bring every day people reams of information and data about the world around them; not just what is happening close to home, but what is happening literally on the other side of the world. This is both a blessing and a burden in disguise. Never before in the history of our humanity have we have such readily access to such a vast and articulated amount of information. Never before has the entire human race been so connected, so close. And yet, it seems, never before have we felt so far from one another, so isolated in our own little worlds and ideologies.

Social media plays a huge role in how we see the world– certainly a larger role that I think most Christians realize. In a world where information is boundless and accessible, we have built systems that serve to filter what we see and hear and this in turn creates pockets of intense ideology and thought often with little or no dissenting opinions or ideas among the ranks of followers and collaborators. Take Twitter for example. Users are able to curate their own list of followers, they can block (and are encouraged to block) users which opinions or ideas that they do not agree– opinion and ideas that are fleshed out in 280 character snippets, leaving much to the imagination in most cases. If you are a Marxist, chances are your followers and people you follow lean along the same flavour of the political spectrum and chances are you are validated over and over by fellow Marxists, content in your own comfortable worldview without ever feeling challenged in your opinions and formulations on the activities of the world. This is not necessarily a good thing and from a Christian perspective I would like to unpack that issue a little here.

Anyone can create a social media account and begin spreading their thoughts and opinions on the internet. This is a good thing. It is wonderful to see such a broad range of opinions and diversity of those participating in the discussions. But what also comes from this is the fact that consumers of user generated content are left holding the bag to determine what is false, true and actually worth exploring more. Tweets generally do not contain enough information to dive deep into issues and explore all sides of a coin, generally they are short, snappy statements that capture a sentiment related to a larger concept or idea that is shadowed in the Tweet. This rapidly makes the fact that anyone can create an account a bad thing. Often the most retweeted and popular remarks on Twitter are not from so-called subject matter experts, but from clever users who are able to capture the perfect balance between wit and common sense in a 280 character Tweet that is relatable to the broadest group of people.

So what can Christ teach us about social media? Perhaps it seems a little silly to ask that question. Literally no one in the Bible had a Twitter or Facebook account. Jesus did not take selfies during His Sermon on the Mount to share on his Instagram account. Saint Peter didn’t create the hashtag #RealMessiah to share the Good News with his friends and family. And #HeIsRisen certainly was not trending in the aftermath of the Resurrection. But Christ does have a lot to teach us about the use of social media in our lives and the formation of our opinions on current affairs around the world. For the average Westerner, the message from Christ regarding these things may be a little hard to swallow, because in this age of social media and the internet, we’ve come to believe that as humans we are all little gods who are entitled to opinions and ideas based on the sheer fact that we are capable of cooking them up in our brains.

The first, and obvious, lesson that Christ teaches us about our use of social media as Christians is that we ought to comport ourselves online in a manner that does not permit us to surrender the fundamental aspects of our faith. Namely, our Tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook likes and Snapchats should be aimed at the glorification of the Lord. The anonymous nature of being online does not change the fact that we are held to account for our actions individually, and as much as Twitter doesn’t know who you are when you Tweet, God does. And regardless of the username and the creativity of the fake name you’ve used, God knows everything that you have said and done online. Everything. Even the “in cognitio” feature of Google Chrome cannot withstand the all seeing eye of God. The same rules of how we ought to act among real people in the world apply to how we act around virtual people in the online social media universe. So ask yourself, does your online presence bring glory and honour to God and to His Son Jesus Christ? Do you allow the Holy Spirit to guide your online footprint, or do you hide behind a false impression of anonymity and become a little less Christian when sitting behind the keyboard? If that answer is a yes, you need to rethink your use of social media and perhaps consider this warning from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”

The second lesson that Christ teaches us about social media is about the content of what we share and the opinions that we are forming while we use social media. Especially for those of us who are maybe a little more political when we are online with our social media accounts. A concept that I have been fleshing out for a long time in my head, but have been unable to fully grasp, is the idea that Christ was killed by real geo-politics that were alive and well at the time of His ministry in Jerusalem. You had a Roman governor who was already in hot water with the emperor of Rome for having some issues holding down dissent within the region. No doubt, Pilate was not a fan of his tenure in the Middle East and we know that historically the man was a careerist who most likely wanted nothing more than to end his time in the Holy City without issue so that he could move on to bigger and better things in Rome. On the flip side we have the leaders within the Temple who represent a segment of Jewish society that are affluent and are willing to work with their Roman overlords in order to keep the peace and maintain their own power over the Jewish people in the region. It was the mutual intersection of the Jesus-problem for these two worlds that the cross literally comes to bear upon the world. It would have been difficult for Jewish leaders to seek the crucifixion of Christ from the Romans had the Romans not already been troubled by any sort of dissent during the largest religious festival of the year at the time. Equally, it would have been hard for the Romans to assert their authority in the punishment and eventual killing of Christ had the Jewish authorities in power at the time in that region not wanted to work with the Roman leaders in order maintain the status quo. The death of Jesus in Jerusalem can easily be explained from a historical perspective using a cursory understanding of politics and specifically geo-politics that was present at the time of Christ. But what does that say about politics in general? I think it is a lesson of what happens when the wishes and desires of mankind (which are the driving force of all politics) do not include Christ. When we remove Christ from our political lives, we contribute to His death on the cross– and to add injury to insult, often under the guise of a well-intentioned policy or idea. Because no one would deny that keeping the peace during a large religious festival is a bad thing– unless in that process you murder the Son of God.

How often do we remove Christ from our politics? In the Western world, I would wager that for most of us it happens all of the time. Indeed, the vague concept of separation of Church and State has seemed to manifest itself into a public policy process that is completely void of Christ and worse void of almost any sort of Christian inspiration or basis. Given what we unpacked earlier, this is a dangerous road to be heading down. Separating the Church and the State when it comes to having an official state religion or having civil leaders who are interchangeable with religious leaders is one thing (and something that is good and Christian actually), but separating the State from the Church when it comes to how we individually formulate our ideas and opinions on matters of current affairs is dangerous and entirely unChristian. And I go back to the sentiment that I expressed earlier in this post; never before have we had access to so much information, so many events to form opinions and ideas over. For the Christian who has removed Christ from that opinion formulating process, it can all seem very confusing and overwhelming. Which is exactly why we need Christ in our lives and in the formation of our political understanding of the world. For example, perhaps you are confused over the migrant crisis and the issue of immigration to help those around the world who are poor and in need. Perhaps you are having trouble finding a balance between welcoming these people in need and the security of your own country. And yet, Christ is clear on all fronts regarding this issue. We are to help the poor. And if our brother strikes us, we are to turn the other cheek. Very clear. A funny thing happens when we bring Christ in our political realities, things start to fall in place and the path becomes very clearly illuminated. Albeit, no easier to walk and actually put into action (which is I wager the hang up for most people). The bottom line is that Christ teaches us that in our use of social media and specifically when formulating/sharing our opinions we must include Him, otherwise we are lost and confused without a compass to guide us through these current affairs.

Lent is the perfect time to reflect on how we are using social media as Christians and how we are formulating our opinions and ideas about the world around us. Do we cut Christ out of the equation? Do we find that we are lost and confused when it comes to working how we think and feel about a particular issue of the day? Do we profess to be Christians in the pews but rapidly lose that sentiment when we are typing on our phones in the church parking lot? Perhaps it is time to invite Christ into our political lives. Perhaps it is time to ensure our social media accounts and online presence is reflective of the Christian nature of our real lives. We also focus on fasting from certain foods during Lent, and this is an old tradition. But I propose an idea, perhaps we can start to consider fasting from social media and the internet. Just as food nourishes our body and can be bad for us if we eat bad food, so too does social media nourish our brains and souls and can be bad for us if we consume bad social media. Perhaps this Lent, consider fasting from social media and the internet. You might be surprised what starts to happen with your relationship with Jesus.

God of power and might, wisdom and justice,
through you authority is rightly administered,
laws are enacted, and judgment is decreed.
Assist with your spirit of counsel and fortitude
the  government leaders around the whole world.
May they always seek
the ways of righteousness, justice and mercy.
Grant that they may be enabled by your powerful protection
to lead our country with honesty and integrity.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.