Sunday, February 27, 2011

Aggie Catholic's: LENT 2011

This is the annual Lenten "mega-post" put together by AGGIE Catholic.  Please visit their website.

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LENT 2011


Once again, it is time for our Aggie Catholics annual Lenten mega-post.  Links, videos, and resources will be added and updated throughout the Lenten season.  Please leave your feedback in the comments and anything that needs to be added.  Thanks for reading.

Things you will find below include:
  • LENT FAQ
  • MORE QUESTIONS ON LENT
  • LENTEN SUGGESTIONS
  • LENT LINKS
Scroll down to get to all the goodies.

LENT FAQ
When Does Lent Start in 2010?
Lent starts on Ash Wed, March 9.  Easter Sunday is April 24.

What is Lent?
Lent is a time when the Catholic Church collectively enters into preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent originally developed as a forty-day retreat, preparing converts to be baptized at the Easter Vigil. It is a season of conversion for all. Conversion is the process of turning away from sin and turning to God. Lent starts with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday, the first day of the Triduum, the three holy days before Easter.

Are Sundays a part of Lent?
Sundays are always a day of celebration of Christ's passion and Resurrection, so we celebrate on these days. While still part of the season of Lent, they have a mixture of both celebration (because it is Sunday) and repentance (because it is Lent).

Does this mean I can "cheat" on Sundays?
Since Sundays are not part of the penitential season, you do not have to practice signs of penitence on these days. But, there is no reason you can't do them either. If you feel you are "cheating" then it isn't helping! Since the Church has some conflicting information (different documents state different things) I think you should do what you feel is best regarding the Lenten season and Sundays. In other words, follow your conscience.

Why forty days and not some other number?
Because 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special - as in the 40 day flood of Noah.
  • *Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18),
  •  Jonah gives the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4) - (there are many other Old Testament stories)
  • *We also see this with Jesus, before starting his ministry, he spent forty days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2).

So, as in the Bible, we spend forty days in preparing ourselves to rejoice at the Resurrection of our Lord at Easter.

So, what is Ash Wednesday all about?
Ash Wednesday is so named because this first day of Lent is where we are marked with ashes to show the repentance of our sins and mourning. This is also a Biblical sign that we live today. We can see this in several verses.
  • "I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Dan 9:3)
  • Other verses include: 1 Sam 4:12, Jon 3:6, Esther 4:1 and Matt 11:20-21

Today, ashes are still this same sign of repentance and mourning for our sins. They also represent our mortality. "I am nothing but dust and ashes" (Gen. 18:27). We started as nothing and our bodies will become dust and ashes after our death. Reminding ourselves that nobody escapes physical death, we look forward to eternal life.

So, why are the ashes made into a cross on the forehead?
Because it is the ancient sign of being marked by Christ in our baptism. We are no longer our own, but Jesus Christ owns us. The book of Revelation tells us that all the elect will be marked by the sign of Christ - "On Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads." (Rev 14:1)

Where do we get the ashes?
They come from burning the palms from last years Palm Sunday Masses.

Who can receive ashes?
Anyone can receive ashes on Ash Wed. While we have communion only for Catholics who are in good standing with the Church, all may receive ashes.

Is Ash Wed a holy day of Obligation?
No. But all Catholics are strongly urged to attend, because it is the start of the Lenten season. It is the day with the most people in Mass for Catholic Churches in the United States.

Do we have to fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wed?
Yes. This means that all Catholics from 14 and up are required to abstain from meat and Catholics 18-60 are required to eat only one average meal and two snacks without anything else. Children, the elderly and those who are sick are not obligated to do this.

Why fast?
Again, this is because we are called to by Jesus. By denying ourselves something good, we remember what the highest good of all is - GOD. We also practice self-discipline and self-mastery, which we need in order to achieve holiness. Jesus fasted in the desert and calls us to as well.
  • "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full." (Matt 6: 16)
  • "and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer." (Luke 2:37)
  • Fasting also helps focus us in our prayer. *Yet when they were ill, I...humbled myself with fasting.” (Psalm 35:13)

Why abstain from meat?
Because of the spiritual discipline it provides. "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia . . . 'I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.'" (Dan 10:1-3) We give up meat, which still today is a luxury in some parts of the world, as a good thing that we offer up in order to remember that Christ is better than food and needed more by all of us than anything else.

Why is fish not considered meat?
Because it was the food of the poor who could not afford meat, yet could catch fish to sustain themselves.

So, what are the other days of fast and abstinence?
Good Friday is a day of fasting and abstinence. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence - Friday was the day Christ died.

So, why do people "give up" things during Lent?
While we are not required to “give something up” we are required to do something penitential. Lent is a great time to break a bad habit and give it to the Lord. These sins and vices we should not take back after Lent. It is also a time to give something up that is good during this season. This is why people give up something they enjoy. In doing so we can draw closer to God by our temporary sacrifice. We should find an appropriate balance of giving something up and not completely cutting ourselves off of good things. We will find our need for God if we do it correctly.

What else then IS required during Lent?
The Church asks us to increase our prayer, fasting and almsgiving. It is assumed that we are already doing these things and should merely increase them.

Got any suggestions?
First off, pray about what you are going to do for Lent. Ask for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in your spiritual practice of Lent. Then find a few things that you feel called to do. Don't do too much or too little. Stretch yourself, but don't pick things you won't stick to.

MORE LENT QUESTIONS

LENTEN SUGGESTIONS
Increased Prayer:
*Wake up 20 minutes early and start the day in prayer.
*Daily Mass 1-2 times a week.
*An hr. in Adoration a week.
*Go to Confession.
*Read Scripture daily.
*Go to a Lenten Bible study.
*Read a spiritual book.
*Start to pray a daily Rosary.
*Pray the Liturgy of the hours.
*Pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet.
*Stations of the Cross on Fridays.
*Pray for your enemies.
*Watch The Passion of the Christ and then meditate on Christ’s life.
*Read about the life of a saint.
*Do an extra spiritual activity at Church
*Get involved in your parish if you aren’t already.
*Memorize Scripture verses.
*Check out a book on spirituality from the parish library.

Increased Almsgiving:
*When you fast from a meal, give the money you would spend to the poor.
*Use a coin box from and put all change into it for the poor.
*Volunteer with St. Vincent de Paul or another charitable organization.
*Spend more time with your parents.
*Visit a nursing home.
*Start tithing.
*Make a pledge to a worthy charity.
*Forgive an old grudge.
*Invite someone to Church.
*Share your faith with someone.
*Give someone a Catholic tract or CD.
*Exercise patience and love.
*Speak in a pleasant tone to everyone.
*Look for extra ways to help others.
*Go out of your way to talk to someone who is shy or difficult.
*Offer to watch a mother’s child(ren).
*Drive with love.
*Write a letter to a relative you haven’t seen in a while.

Increased fasting:
The following are good things we can fast from and have back at a later time:
*Fast on bread and water on Fridays.
*Fast from TV.
*Fast from snacking or candy.
*Fast from the radio in your car.
*Fast from ‘facebook’ / internet.
*Fast from caffeine.
*Do not use seasoning on your food.

The following are things we can fast from and continue to give up:
*Fast from alcohol (especially if you drink too much or are not 21.
*Fast from speeding.
*Fast from sarcasm or gossip.
*Fast from being lazy or lying.
*Fast from not studying / working hard.
*Fast from complaining.
*Fast from some other bad habit.

LENT LINKS
Here is a list of links about lent. If you have any to add, then leave in the comments or shoot me an email.


Prayers, History, Lenten Suggestions:
*EWTN.com - Lenten reflections, questions, and more.
*AmericanCatholic.org - Lent 2011 pages
*Creighton University - Lenten prayers.
*Catholic Encyclopedia - entry on Lent
*Catholic Culture - Personal Lenten program.
*Our Sunday Visitor - Lenten resources.
*Catholic Online - Lent 2011
*Jimmy Akin's Annual Lent Fight - good stuff if you like details.
*Byzantine Catholic - Lenten resources for Byzantine Catholics.
*DomesticChurch.com - exploring Lent.
*Catholic Pages - Lenten links.
*National Catholic Register - Fasting for lent.
*North American College - the Station Churches of Rome for Lent.

Catholic New Media on Lent:

*Fr. Barron on Lent:


*Apostleship of Prayer on Lent:


*Listen and Pray along - Allegri: Miserere:

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Father Barron Comments on How to Read the Bible

From the Word on Fire Blog LINK

The Genesis ProblemBy Rev. Robert Barron

I’m continually amazed how often the “problem” of Genesis comes up in my work of evangelization and apologetics. What I mean is the way people struggle with the seemingly bad science that is on display in the opening chapters of the first book of the Bible. How can anyone believe that God made the visible universe in six days, that all the species were created at the same time, that light existed before the sun and moon, etc., etc? How can believers possibly square the naïve cosmology of Genesis with the textured and sophisticated theories of Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Stephen Hawking?

One of the most important principles of Catholic Biblical interpretation is that the reader of the Scriptural texts must be sensitive to the genre or literary type of the text with which he is dealing. Just as it would be counter-indicated to read Moby Dick as history or “The Wasteland” as social science, so it is silly to interpret, say, “The Song of Songs” as journalism or the Gospel of Matthew as a spy novel. By the same token, it is deeply problematic to read the opening chapters of Genesis as a scientific treatise. If I can borrow an insight from Fr. George Coyne, a Jesuit priest and astrophysicist, no Biblical text can possibly be “scientific” in nature, since “science,” as we understand it, first emerged some fourteen centuries after the composition of the last Biblical book. The author of Genesis simply wasn’t doing what Newton, Darwin, Einstein, and Hawking were doing; he wasn’t attempting to explain the origins of things in the characteristically modern manner, which is to say, on the basis of empirical observation, testing of hypotheses, marshalling of evidence, and experimentation. Therefore, to maintain that the opening chapters of Genesis are “bad science” is a bit like saying “The Iliad” is bad history or “The Chicago Tribune” is not very compelling poetry.

So what precisely was that ancient author trying to communicate? Once we get past the “bad science” confusion, the opening of the Bible gives itself to us in all of its theological and spiritual power. Let me explore just a few dimensions of this lyrical and evocative text. We hear that Yahweh brought forth the whole of created reality through great acts of speech: “Let there be light,’ and there was light; ‘Let the dry land appear’ and so it was.” In almost every mythological cosmology in the ancient world, God or the gods establish order through some act of violence. They conquer rival powers or they impose their will on some recalcitrant matter. (How fascinating, by the way, that we still largely subscribe to this manner of explanation, convinced that order can be maintained only through violence or the threat of violence). But there is none of this in the Biblical account. God doesn’t subdue some rival or express his will through violence. Rather, through a sheerly generous and peaceful act of speech, he gives rise to the whole of the universe. This means that the most fundamental truth of things—the metaphysics that governs reality at the deepest level—is peace and non-violence. Can you see how congruent this is with Jesus’ great teachings on non-violence and enemy love in the Sermon on the Mount? The Lord is instructing his followers how to live in accord with the elemental grain of the universe.

Secondly, we are meant to notice the elements of creation that are explicitly mentioned in this account: the heavens, the stars, the sun, the moon, the earth itself, the sea, the wide variety of animals that roam the earth. Each one of these was proposed by various cultures in the ancient world as objects of worship. Many of the peoples that surrounded Israel held sky, stars, sun, moon, the earth, and various animals to be gods. By insisting that these were, in fact, created by the true God, the author of Genesis was, not so subtly, de-throning false claimants to divinity and disallowing all forms of idolatry. Mind you, the author of Genesis never tires of reminding us that everything that God made is good (thus holding off all forms of dualism, Manichaeism and Gnosticism), but none of these good things is the ultimate good.

A third feature that we should notice is the position and role of Adam, the primal human, in the context of God’s creation. He is given the responsibility of naming the animals , “all the birds of heaven and all the wild beasts” (Gen. 2:20). The Church fathers read this as follows: naming God’s creatures in accord with the intelligibility placed in them by the Creator, Adam is the first scientist and philosopher, for he is, quite literally, “cataloguing” the world he sees around him. (Kata Logon means “according to the word”). From the beginning, the author is telling us, God accords to his rational creatures the privilege of participating, through their own acts of intelligence, in God’s intelligent ordering of the world. This is why, too, Adam is told, not to dominate the world, but precisely to “cultivate and care for it” (Gen. 2: 16), perpetuating thereby the non-violence of the creative act.

These are, obviously, just a handful of insights among the dozens that can be culled from this great text. My hope is that those who are tripped up by the beginning of the book of Genesis can make a small but essential interpretive adjustment and see these writings as they were meant to be seen: not as primitive science, but as exquisite theology.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What is the Biblical Form of Church Government?

From the Sacred Page blog found here

Yesterday's feast day, the Feast of the Chair of Peter, and today's Feast of St. Polycarp (an early bishop), bring up to my mind the issue of the structure and government of the Church.

During my years of training to become a Calvinist pastor, the issue of church polity was quite a live one.  Calvinists themselves do not agree on what is the "biblical model" for church government.  Presbyterian, Reformed, and Congregational denominations share a Calvinist doctrinal heritage but different governing structures.  There was more or less a consensus that the New Testament was unclear about the manner in which church leaders should be selected and what their roles were.

It may be true that the New Testament leaves much unsaid about the role of church leaders, but I don't think it is as unclear as we thought it was.  Rather, I think that what was clear was not seen by us, because it was unacceptable and unworkable for us.



I'm convinced that the New Testament shows a top-down Church governing structure in which each generation of leaders appoints the next, tracing back to the apostles.  In other words, apostolic succession.


The principle of apostolic succession is that the leadership of the Church, by which we mean primarily, but not only, the bishops, were appointed by the previous generation of leaders, and they in turn by a previous generation, all the way back to the apostles, who appointed the Church’s first generation of leaders during their own lifetimes.  Thus, the bishops are successors of the apostles in the sense that they fulfill the apostles’ role, which is one of leadership or oversight (episkope in Greek).

We see this pattern in Acts.

Acts 1:12-26, the replacement of Judas by Matthias, is significant.  It does not prove apostolic succession.  But it demonstrates two important points: (1) The apostles had a role or office, which did not necessarily cease with their death, (2) this role is described, among other things, as an episkopen, an “oversight” (“his office [espiskopen] let another take”, Acts 1:20 rsv).  Calling the apostles’ role an episkopen shows the connection between the apostles and the later leaders of the Church, who are frequently called episkopoi (in English, “bishops”: Acts 2:28; Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:7).

In Acts 1, the church is growing already (120 people, Acts 1:15) and the apostles are short on leadership, because they are missing Judas.  So he is replaced by Matthias.  The apostles are back up to full strength of numbers.

In the beginning of the Church, they are able to perform all the roles of leadership, but this quickly becomes too much.  They appoint more leaders (Acts 6:3), by the laying on of hands (Acts 6:60), to share the burden with them.

Later yet, the Church is going to spread all over the Mediterranean, to places the apostles cannot get to easily.  Then, the apostles appoint other men to share in the “oversight” (episkopen).  These men are called presbuteroi, “elders”, from which we get the English word “priest”: see Acts 14:23

In the beginning there is no distinction between presbuteroi and episkopoi: compare Acts 20:17 and 20:28.  Later, these roles will be differentiated.  It is like tissue in an unborn baby: at first the organs are one lump of cells, but they differentiate into different organs in time.  In a similar way, the apostles had the role of bishop, priest, and deacon all wrapped in one, but these roles differentiate in time.  All clergy share in Holy Orders and at least partially in apostolic succession, since they fulfill roles of leadership originally held by the apostles.

The leadership of the early Church was always appointed by the apostles, not elected.  This pattern holds in Acts and also the Pastoral Epistles (see Titus 1:5).  Even in exceptional cases, like Paul, who is made an apostle directly by Jesus, such a person goes to the apostles to receive confirmation (see Acts 9:27; Gal 1:18; 2:1-2, 9). If you ponder this principle of appointing leaders, you will see that it is a top-down structure, and it implies apostolic succession: all the church’s leaders, if legitimate, ought to be able to trace their appointment to the apostles, handed on in succession.
Look at Titus 1:5.  Titus is Paul’s representative, his “child in faith” (1:4).  Paul tells Titus to appoint presbuteroi and episkopoi (elders/priests and bishops, 1:5, 7) for Crete in every town.  Appointing such people was something Paul used to do personally [Acts 14:23].  Now he’s passing the authority on to Titus.  This shows us apostolic succession.

Look at Acts 20:28-37.  Paul knows he is being taken away from the Church of Ephesus.  He will no longer be able to lead them, due to imprisonment and ultimately death (20:29, 38).  He passes them the torch of episkopen to them (20:28).  Again, this shows us apostolic succession.  The elders/overseers (in our usual terminology, priests/bishops) will guide the Church in Paul’s absence.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How Do You Choose a Church?

This is a very well written article by Bryan Cross over at Called to Communion addressing the modern consumerist mentality that plays such a large roll in much of Christianity. Link to Article

Ecclesial Consumerism

Jul 5th, 2010 | By Bryan Cross
In our contemporary culture, church-shopping has become entirely normal and even expected. Not only when moving to a new location, but if a person has some falling out with a pastor or other individual or family in his church, or even if his church-experience starts seeming dull or dry, he visits and tries out other churches, determining which one best suits his preferences. He might consider the kind of community they offer — how welcomed and wanted they make him feel. He might consider the kind of child care and/or Sunday school they offer, the quality of the preaching and music, the driving distance, the ethnicity or degree of ethnic diversity, the average age and culture or tastes of its members, the opportunities available to contribute with his own talents and gifts, whether they have home groups that he could join, and what sort of moral and theological doctrines they hold, etc. He weighs all the various factors and tries to decide which church best matches what he (and his family) are looking for in a church. He might even make lists of all that he is looking for in a church, and see which church comes closest to meeting all the criteria.
This phenomenon is called “ecclesial consumerism.” It does not go unnoticed by the churches. Some time ago I jotted down some lines in the church advertisement section in the local newspaper. One church advertised its “Rock ‘n Roll Youth Group.” Another said, “The people are real. The messages are for today. You’ll relate to the music. The dress is casual. We love to laugh. Have kids? So do we.” Another said, “Contemporary music, casusal dress.” Another said, “Friendly, casusal atmosphere, creative children’s ministries, great music/live band, relevant biblical messages!” Another said, “relevant and engaging teaching, real and inviting community, contemporary and energetic music, fresh and free bagels and coffee, kids ministries through 5th grade, comes as you are – we do.” Another said, “Authentic … Relevant … Casual; free coffee and bagels. Dress is casual. People are friendly. Music is Modern. Bagels are free.” Another said, “Incredible Music / Live Band; Creative Children’s Ministries; Positive, Practical Messages.” Another said that it “seeks to glorify the triune God by embracing the Gospel, building our community, making disciples and transforming societies.” It boasted a “Trio Jazz Worship Service.” Another said, “Worship for both your head & heart; Outstanding & diverse Music Program; Creative Sunday School during Worship; Dress is casual & cookies are included!; Youth, Young Adult & Family Fellowship; An Open and Affirming Congregation.” Another boasts of a “permanent outdoor labyrinth open to the public.” The various churches offered options between “Traditional worship,” “Blended worship,” “Contemporary worship,” “Casual worship,” and “Classic worship.” All of that was in the Religion section from one weekend paper.
Clearly, these religious organizations are trying to fill niches in consumer demand. Through a kind of free-market process, they are reflections of what people [believe they] are looking for in a church. These advertisements reveal not only the various features that people want in their ‘church experience,’ but also that many Christians, whether consciously aware of it or not, now conceive of church in a consumeristic way. ‘Church’ is about fulfilling my needs and desires, about giving me the best religious experience available in my area, with the best music and the most “awesome” worship experience, and the community that makes me feel most accepted and appreciated. This consumerist mentality turns church into a market-driven phenomenon. Just as we can get a personalized, custom-made teddy bear at the local mall, so we can get a religious experience on Sunday morning that is custom-made to fit our particular religious appetites, preferences, interpretations, expectations, beliefs, etc. We can find a community of persons that most closely meets our perceived needs, people with whom we are most comfortable, people just like ourselves who go the extra mile to understand and support us. The phenomenon of “contemporary worship” is an obvious expression of this consumerism, and it sets itself up for this kind of critique:
“Sunday’s Coming” Movie Trailer from North Point Media.
Perhaps we have some vague sense that something is not right here. But what exactly is the root of the problem?
Before answering that question, consider another example. The Health & Wealth form of Christianity largely took shape in the United States in the mid to late twentieth century, in the writings and preaching of E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin and Kenneth Copeland. But now it is being exported from the United States to many other parts of the world, including Africa:
The Health & Wealth gospel is a false gospel, as Fr. Barron succinctly explains. But I used to view the Health & Wealth form of Christianity as a radical aberration from Protestantism. Of course in certain ways it is. Yet, over time I have come to believe that the Health & Wealth form of Christianity is simply a more unabashed and fully developed expression of the very same ecclesial consumerism that is intrinsic to Protestantism as such, because in Protestantism the individual retains ultimate interpretive authority, and so is de facto his own ecclesial and spiritual center of gravity. Ultimately there is no principled difference between selecting a worship experience on the basis of what it does for me, and selecting a theology or interpretation of Scripture based on what it [promises to give] to me, or selecting a denomination based on how closely it matches my own interpretation of Scripture. In each case the ultimate criterion remains conformity to my tastes, desires, opinions and interpretations. There is no principled difference between choosing where to worship based on conformity to my own interpretation of Scripture, and choosing where to worship based on its conformity to my own musical preferences, whether the dress is formal or informal, whether there are plenty of people there my age, or whether the preaching ‘feeds me.’ In each case, I remain the consumer, customizing my ecclesial selection at the drive-thru that is the religious scene of contemporary American life. The two videos above might initially seem miles apart, but they are both criticizing different expressions of the very same ecclesial consumerism.
As difficult as it is to believe, if we worship in a community or organization that is custom-made to our own tastes, desires, self-perceived needs, and interpretations, we are nevertheless worshiping a god made in our own image, and in this way ultimately worshiping ourselves, even as we sing praise choruses describing how much we love Jesus. For this reason if we identify or locate ‘the church’ by finding the most moving religious experience, or by finding and associating with the people most like ourselves, who most closely share our interpretation of Scripture, we’re engaging in an ecclesial consumerism that is ultimately a religious form of narcissism.1 All these expressions of ecclesial consumerism are all ultimately about sufficiently conforming to and gratifying the consumer. Paradoxically, however, every form of ecclesial consumerism is finally unsatisfying. The deepest desire of the human heart is union with the God in whose image we are made, not the god who is made in our image. The ‘church’ formed by way of ecclesial consumerism is thus shaped in the form of our needs and desires; not in the divine form that alone can meet those needs. And so church-in-our-own-image cannot be ultimately satisfying; we end up demanding from it what it cannot provide to us, leaving behind a trail of bitter, burned out, and disillusioned people.
Ecclesial consumerism carries with it a crucial theological assumption. The church-shopping phenomenon presupposes that none of the churches is the true Church that Christ founded. That’s precisely why the church-shopper believes he can pick whichever presently existing church best suits him. If, however, one of the present churches is the true Church that Christ founded, and the others are to some degree or other mere imitations, then none of those other criteria (e.g. quality of preaching, conformity to one’s own interpretation, musical endowment, child care provision, community, etc.) is relevant in determining where to be on Sunday mornings. Only if none of the existing churches is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church that Christ founded do the other criteria become relevant. In short, only if Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or it ceased to exist, does ecclesial consumerism become an option.2
In the proper order of inquiry, however, one can engage in ecclesial consumerism only after one has established that either Christ never founded a visible universal Church, or that it ceased to exist. But the invisible-church ecclesiology underlying the contemporary practice of church-shopping is typically taken for granted, never established.3 Invisible-church ecclesiology is part of the theological air we breath in our present religious culture, so familiar and ubiquitous that it remains unnoticed and unconsidered to all those within it.
This is why ecclesial consumerists typically do not know that they are ecclesial consumerists. And this is why they assume that every other Christian thinks about church as they do. When they encounter Catholics, they generally treat Catholics as if Catholics are church-shoppers too, i.e. as if the Catholic is a Catholic only because the Catholic finds the Catholic Church most satisfying to his personal needs and tastes, and not because the Catholic believes that the Catholic Church is the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church founded by Christ, and whose bishops assembled in ecumenical council at Nicea in A.D. 325 and again in Constantinople in A.D. 381 to state the Church’s faith concerning herself with those very words, “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” The church-shopper is not trying to be rude or offensive; he simply has no concept of “the true Church founded by Christ.” The concept does not even fit within his theological paradigm.
When the church-shopper discovers in dialogue that the Catholic is a Catholic, the church-shopper typically responds like this: “Oh, that’s great for you. I’m glad you found a place that you like. I went to a Catholic service once, and it just wasn’t my style.” At that point in the conversation the Catholic is thinking, “What I like ultimately has nothing to do with why I am a Catholic. I’m Catholic because I believe the Catholic Church to be the one, true Church that Christ founded, and all other churches to be sects or schisms from her.” The two persons are in entirely different conceptual worlds.
St. Paul predicted the coming of ecclesial consumerism when he wrote:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.” (2 Timothy 4:6)
The sound doctrine just seemed too dull and unhelpful to them. In their minds it didn’t feed them or give them peace. They wanted to hear what they wanted to hear, not what the Church had to say. Hence they rejected their lawful shepherds, and chose for themselves ‘teachers’ who said what they wanted to hear, what resonated with their own interpretation of Scripture, and was presented according to their own tastes and styles. St. Paul treats picking teachers on the basis of their saying what we want to hear, as ear-itching. But picking teachers based on their agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture is essential to Protestant practice.4
How can a person determine if he is an ecclesial consumerist? How can a person determine of he is one of those described in 2 Timothy 4:6?
One is an ecclesial consumerist if one’s decision regarding which ‘church’ to attend or join is based ultimately on anything other than this question: Which Church is the one founded by the incarnate Christ, and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail?
Catholicism is the exact opposite of ecclesial consumerism, because the agape that comes from Christ is the exact opposite of the narcissism intrinsic to ecclesial consumerism. In the second chapter of his book The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis describes hell as a “grey town” that is constantly expanding at its outskirts, leaving empty houses and streets behind, as people unable to get along, perpetually seek to move farther away from each other. They each want to be lord of their own domain; they want everything to be just the way they want it. But because they each want to be lord of their own domain, they cannot get along with each other. And so they must continually separate from each other.
This description of hell stands in contrast to the unity and catholicity of the Church, a Church that is not built on any mere man, or on any mere man’s interpretation or idea or vision. Divine unity comes to us only from the God-man, Jesus Christ, and so the true Church of Christ can only be that Church that Christ founded, not any schism or sect formed or founded by any mere man. True unity in charity can only be had when we die to our self, and give up locating ‘the church’ by pursuing worship leaders who titillate us, and stop seeking teachers who agree with our own interpretation. True unity requires that we stop pursuing conformity to ourselves, seek the Church that Christ founded, and in this way abandon the narcissism that insists on “church, my way.” Only when we die to ourselves can we find the Church that Christ founded, and only in this way can we find the ecclesial unity Christ established in His Church and for which He infallibly prayed in John 17.5
One rightly comes to the Church in the same humility in which one comes to Christ and the Apostles: not with lists of requirements and demands that must be met before one will enter and submit. That approach might remind us of some of the ‘ghosts’ in Lewis’ The Great Divorce, making demands about what they would get in heaven, before they would agree to go there. Whatever it is that must conform to our own judgments before we will submit to it or enter it, is something man-made, something beneath and below us. The Church is not only made by God, but more importantly, she is joined to God as His mystical Body. In that respect she is divine, because her Head is Christ, who is God, and because she is the temple of the Holy Spirit. And for that reason we should expect to find that some of the true Church’s teachings and practices do not align with our own opinions regarding what the Church should be like. In encountering the true Church that Christ founded, we should expect to have to conform ourselves to her, not seek to conform her to ourselves and to our own tastes. If we seek to create a ‘church’ in our own image, or join one already made in our own image, we can know that we are forming or entering a man-made entity, not the divine society founded by the God-man Jesus Christ.
Each ecclesial consumerist makes ‘church’ in his own image, and so in this respect excludes himself from Christ’s Church and thus in this respect from Christ. Since Christ made the Church in His own image, if we wish to follow Christ, and not follow ourselves, we must turn away from ecclesial consumerism, and find, enter and conform to the Church Christ founded.
  1. Even the architecture reflects this; see here. []
  2. See my post titled “Why Protestantism has no visible catholic Church.” []
  3. On invisible-church ecclesiology, see “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” []
  4. Nineteenth century American Presbyterian theologian W.G.T Shedd wrote:
    “Of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. But this particular way of appealing to Scripture is specious and fallacious. In the first place, it assumes that Calvinism is not Scriptural, an assumption which the Presbyterian Church has never granted. . . . Secondly, this kind of appeal to Scripture is only an appeal to Scripture as the reviser understands it. Scripture properly means the interpretation of Scripture; that is, the contents of Scripture as reached by human investigation and exegesis. Creeds, like commentaries, are Scripture studied and explained, and not the mere abstract and unexplained book as it lies on the counter of the Bible House. The infallible Word of God is expounded by the fallible mind of man, and hence the variety of expositions embodied in the denominational creeds. But every interpreter claims to have understood the Scriptures correctly, and, consequently, claims that his creed is Scriptural, and if so, that it is the infallible truth of God. The Arminian appeals to the Articles of Wesley as the rule of faith, because he believes them to be the true explanation of the inspired Bible. . . . The Calvinist appeals to the creeds of Heidelberg, Dort, and Westminster as the rule of faith, because he regards them as the accurate exegesis of the revealed Word of God. By the Bible these parties, as well as all others who appeal to the Bible, mean their understanding of the Bible. There is no such thing as that abstract Scripture to which the revisionist of whom we are speaking appeals; that is, Scripture apart from any and all interpretation of it. When, therefore, the advocate of revision demands that the Westminster Confession be conformed to Scripture , he means conformation to Scripture as he and those like him read and explain it. It is impossible to make abstract Scripture the rule of faith for either an individual or a denomination. No Christian body has ever subscribed to the Bible merely as a printed book. A person who should write his name on the blank leaf of the Bible and say that his doctrinal belief was between the covers, would convey no definite information as to his creed.”
    See also here. []
  5. Of course this raises the question: Isn’t seeking the Church that Christ also a form of ecclesial consumerism? No, it is the exact opposite. It is the humble willingness to conform entirely to that Church that Christ founded, even if is muddy and unpleasant, as the Jordan water was to Naaman the leper. (See 2 Kings 5.) See also “The Tu Quoque.” []

Friday, February 11, 2011

26 Years of World Youth Days

In case anyone was wondering what Catholic katholikos (universal/according to the whole) meant.

Round Table Discussion on Sola Sciptura

Dr. Scott Hahn: former Presbyterian pastor
Dr. Kenneth Howell: former Presbyterian pastor
Bruce Sullivan: former Church of Christ minister
Dr. Paul Thigpen: former Evangelical pastor
Richard Lane: former Lutheran
Marcus Grodi: former Presbyterian pastor



More on Sola Scriptura:

Article on Called to Communion's Website

Article on the Coming Home Network's Website

Article from Catholic Answers

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Apostolic Tradition

Apostolic Tradition



Is Scripture the sole rule of faith for Christians? Not according to the Bible. While we must guard against merely human tradition, the Bible contains numerous references to the necessity of clinging to apostolic tradition.

Thus Paul tells the Corinthians, "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you" (1 Cor. 11:2), and he commands the Thessalonians, "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Thess. 2:15). He even goes so far as to order, "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us" (2 Thess. 3:6).

To make sure that the apostolic tradition would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, "[W]hat you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2). In this passage he refers to the first four generations of apostolic succession—his own generation, Timothy’s generation, the generation Timothy will teach, and the generation they in turn will teach.

The early Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of succession, recognized the necessity of the traditions that had been handed down from the apostles and guarded them scrupulously, as the following quotations show.

 
Papias


"Papias [A.D. 120], who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he, moreover, asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly, he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions [concerning Jesus]. . . . [There are] other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition" (fragment in Eusebius, Church History 3:39 [A.D. 312]).

 
Eusebius of Caesarea


"At that time [A.D. 150] there flourished in the Church Hegesippus, whom we know from what has gone before, and Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, and another bishop, Pinytus of Crete, and besides these, Philip, and Apollinarius, and Melito, and Musanus, and Modestus, and, finally, Irenaeus. From them has come down to us in writing, the sound and orthodox faith received from tradition" (Church History 4:21).

 
Irenaeus


"As I said before, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although she is disseminated throughout the whole world, yet guarded it, as if she occupied but one house. She likewise believes these things just as if she had but one soul and one and the same heart; and harmoniously she proclaims them and teaches them and hands them down, as if she possessed but one mouth. For, while the languages of the world are diverse, nevertheless, the authority of the tradition is one and the same" (Against Heresies 1:10:2 [A.D. 189]).

"That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them [heretics], while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the tradition of truth. . . . What if the apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the churches?" (ibid., 3:4:1).

...

"It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors to our own times—men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about.

"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles.

"With this church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree—that is, all the faithful in the whole world—and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition" (ibid., 3:3:1–2).

 
Clement of Alexandria


"Well, they preserving the tradition of the blessed doctrine derived directly from the holy apostles, Peter, James, John, and Paul, the sons receiving it from the father (but few were like the fathers), came by God’s will to us also to deposit those ancestral and apostolic seeds. And well I know that they will exult; I do not mean delighted with this tribute, but solely on account of the preservation of the truth, according as they delivered it. For such a sketch as this, will, I think, be agreeable to a soul desirous of preserving from loss the blessed tradition" (Miscellanies 1:1 [A.D. 208]).

 
Origen


"Although there are many who believe that they themselves hold to the teachings of Christ, there are yet some among them who think differently from their predecessors. The teaching of the Church has indeed been handed down through an order of succession from the apostles and remains in the churches even to the present time. That alone is to be believed as the truth which is in no way at variance with ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition" (The Fundamental Doctrines 1:2 [A.D. 225]).

 
Cyprian of Carthage


"[T]he Church is one, and as she is one, cannot be both within and without. For if she is with Novatian, she was not with [Pope] Cornelius. But if she was with Cornelius, who succeeded the bishop Fabian by lawful ordination, and whom, beside the honor of the priesthood the Lord glorified also with martyrdom, Novatian is not in the Church; nor can he be reckoned as a bishop, who, succeeding to no one, and despising the evangelical and apostolic tradition, sprang from himself. For he who has not been ordained in the Church can neither have nor hold to the Church in any way" (Letters 75:3 [A.D. 253]).

 
Athanasius


"Again we write, again keeping to the apostolic traditions, we remind each other when we come together for prayer; and keeping the feast in common, with one mouth we truly give thanks to the Lord. Thus giving thanks unto him, and being followers of the saints, ‘we shall make our praise in the Lord all the day,’ as the psalmist says. So, when we rightly keep the feast, we shall be counted worthy of that joy which is in heaven" (Festal Letters 2:7 [A.D. 330]).

"But you are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from apostolic tradition, and frequently accursed envy has wished to unsettle it, but has not been able" (ibid., 29).

 
Basil the Great


"Of the dogmas and messages preserved in the Church, some we possess from written teaching and others we receive from the tradition of the apostles, handed on to us in mystery. In respect to piety, both are of the same force. No one will contradict any of these, no one, at any rate, who is even moderately versed in matters ecclesiastical. Indeed, were we to try to reject unwritten customs as having no great authority, we would unwittingly injure the gospel in its vitals; or rather, we would reduce [Christian] message to a mere term" (The Holy Spirit 27:66 [A.D. 375]).

 
Epiphanius of Salamis


"It is needful also to make use of tradition, for not everything can be gotten from sacred Scripture. The holy apostles handed down some things in the scriptures, other things in tradition" (Medicine Chest Against All Heresies 61:6 [A.D. 375]).

 
Augustine


"[T]he custom [of not rebaptizing converts] . . . may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings" (On Baptism, Against the Donatists 5:23[31] [A.D. 400]).

"But the admonition that he [Cyprian] gives us, ‘that we should go back to the fountain, that is, to apostolic tradition, and thence turn the channel of truth to our times,’ is most excellent, and should be followed without hesitation" (ibid., 5:26[37]).

"But in regard to those observances which we carefully attend and which the whole world keeps, and which derive not from Scripture but from Tradition, we are given to understand that they are recommended and ordained to be kept, either by the apostles themselves or by plenary [ecumenical] councils, the authority of which is quite vital in the Church" (Letter to Januarius [A.D. 400]).

 
John Chrysostom


"[Paul commands,] ‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word or by our letter’ [2 Thess. 2:15]. From this it is clear that they did not hand down everything by letter, but there is much also that was not written. Like that which was written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. Is it a tradition? Seek no further" (Homilies on Second Thessalonians [A.D. 402]).

 
Vincent of Lerins


"With great zeal and closest attention, therefore, I frequently inquired of many men, eminent for their holiness and doctrine, how I might, in a concise and, so to speak, general and ordinary way, distinguish the truth of the Catholic faith from the falsehood of heretical depravity.

"I received almost always the same answer from all of them—that if I or anyone else wanted to expose the frauds and escape the snares of the heretics who rise up, and to remain intact and in sound faith, it would be necessary, with the help of the Lord, to fortify that faith in a twofold manner: first, of course, by the authority of divine law [Scripture] and then by the tradition of the Catholic Church.

"Here, perhaps, someone may ask: ‘If the canon of the scriptures be perfect and in itself more than suffices for everything, why is it necessary that the authority of ecclesiastical interpretation be joined to it?’ Because, quite plainly, sacred Scripture, by reason of its own depth, is not accepted by everyone as having one and the same meaning. . . .

"Thus, because of so many distortions of such various errors, it is highly necessary that the line of prophetic and apostolic interpretation be directed in accord with the norm of the ecclesiastical and Catholic meaning" (The Notebooks [A.D. 434]).

 
Pope Agatho


"[T]he holy Church of God . . . has been established upon the firm rock of this Church of blessed Peter, the prince of the apostles, which by his grace and guardianship remains free from all error, [and possesses that faith that] the whole number of rulers and priests, of the clergy and of the people, unanimously should confess and preach with us as the true declaration of the apostolic tradition, in order to please God and to save their own souls" (Letter read at fourth session of III Constantinople [A.D. 680]).