Monday, May 27, 2013

Reaction to Pope Francis on Redemption, Salvation

Seeing all these posts about Pope Francis' comments on redemption, and then the follow-up posts/reporting from various sources (atheist, Christian, Catholic, etc.), some thoughts came to mind:

A) I enjoy quotes like, "For a brief moment there it was possible to imagine a brave new world of compassion, generosity and acceptance, not qualities we have come to associate with the Holy See" (IrishCentral) wherein when the Church says things I like, they are good. When they say things I don't like, 'they're so misguided/stupid/bigoted/etc.'

This article's view on infallibility is also telling of what they understand of Catholicism. How far this daughter of the Church has fallen.

B) It seems like all Christians have been made afraid to consider hell, or in other cases we ourselves don't even want to consider it.

C) People consider themselves 'good,' and then I wonder by what standard they judge themselves. Not killing, not murdering, generally not being an asshole? I recall when I was a boy and did something I was told. I asked for a reward afterward and the Sister told me, "You don't get a reward for doing what you're supposed to do."

'But I thought,' some may say, 'being a good person is what really matters?'

I don't disagree, but then again there's a difference between a meal that satisfies hunger and is soon forgotten and a meal that is "good," don't you think? There are many who do good when it suits them, no matter who, and so can we say that satisfying 'good' is a merit to that person?

D) Many reflect on the truths of redemption and salvation with little mind for the whole picture surrounding them. On the one hand, "A tree is known by its fruit" would suggest that one is judged according to his deeds. In fact, "God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecc 12:13). Furthermore, "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense, to repay every one for what he has done" (Rev 22:12).

This would seem to me that all men, regardless of creed (even those with only a human creed) are judged according to their deeds. The man of faith who sins is subject to a hotter fire than the non-believer. Those who believe ought to be wary since it says, "Do not say "His mercy is great, he will forgive the multitude of my sins," for both mercy and wrath are with him, and his anger rests on sinners" (Sir 5:6). All men, regardless of what they believe, are sinners in need of prayer--myself included: "remember, we all deserve punishment" (8:5).

Those who live according to the natural law live according to God, no matter who believes. Grace is with nature and grace "builds upon nature." All have grace by virtue of being, all do not respond to grace and thus grow in it.

On the other hand, what then is the purpose of faith, the role of faith? Unbelief is for those who believe and do not believe. What do I mean?

Those who believe and yet do not believe for it says of them "an evil, unbelieving heart, [leads] you away from the living God" (Heb 3:12) and that "For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end, while it is said "Today when you heard his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion" ... to whom did he swear that they should never enter his rest, but those who were disobedient?" (3:14-15, 18).

For those who do not believe it is not only pride on their part. In many cases it is wickedness on our part. Have we been quick to anger? Quick to ridicule? Quick to hate? Then you and I have made the narrow gate narrower and we have not been dutiful watchmen.

Even those who do not believe must humble themselves before God eventually. If they do not practice humility and obedience in this life, they should consider the hope they have for the next. Indeed, "the affliction of the proud has no healing" (Sir 3:28). The same can be said of those who believe.

Those who are good according to their estimation of what is good, or are good at their convenience are sometimes good out of pride, which means their works are good, not them. Doing good requires sacrifice, loss of self, and both humility and obedience to do that good in the face of opposition.

All the same, we may do something that has all these elements, how do we know it's good?

E) Pray for all mankind, for all have been purchased by the Blood of Christ. No one lives according to the sacrifice made for us if those who share most fully don't do it.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Accept the Kingdom like a Child

This is a reflection on the daily readings for 5/25/12 (Sat) which may be found here.

When Jesus says you must be like a child, or in this case, “accept the kingdom of God like a child” there is more to it than, in a childlike way, accepting everything.

The book of Sirach teaches us what it means to be a child: a child is a symbol of our original state in creation. Sirach writes that all men were “created with knowledge in the spirit” and likewise“he puts fear of him in all flesh.”

Man was created to know, understand, fear, and love God. Many of us, being hardened to sin, no longer seek Him, fear Him, or love Him as we should. A child, on the other hand, has built into him all these things. Children express innocence and you see how devoted a child is to the parent who loves them. Since God loves them with a greater love than anyone, they cling to Him in total trust, and rightly so.

This was the original state of our creation. In error a child must be corrected, but the one who loves his parents will willingly listen when he's gone astray.

When Jesus speaks of children he speaks about innocence, but not about an innocence where we don't know anything. The innocence Jesus calls us to is where we know and trust all that we need to know.

To Choose and to be a Friend

This is a reflection on the daily readings for 5/24/12 (Sat) which may be found here.


The wisdom of Sirach states, “For he who fears God behaves accordingly,” (Sir 6:17) which is to say that someone who fears the Lord will seek to live his life according to right conduct.

The Pharisees, the ones who sought to trick Jesus, were not acting in a manner respectful to the Law, but rather acting according to pride. These are the sort of people we should seek to correct, for any of us who engage in gossip or deceit in order to discredit our foes become a foe to right conduct. If they cannot or will not be corrected we should not share in their friendship, for a friend who speaks ill of others in a mean and spiteful way may become the enemy who does the same to us.

Sirach warns us to be on our guard and that when it comes to friends we should be selective and careful, probing the character of each.

The Psalm today is a hymn to this very process. Those who hold this Psalm in their hearts have the heart that each of us desire in a friend—delighting in God's precepts, desiring to understand His ways, and the humility to be lead in what is right.

Jesus warns, however, that a love of law—the Pharisees loved the law—must always be coupled by a life of love. Only then can both operate in harmony.

Love without the Law allows all others into our hearts as friends. Like bad dispositions, bad friends lead us to vice and sin. The Law without love makes us harsh, deceitful, and protective of a thing over a person. Both are good in themselves, but either can be corrupted into sin. It is only together, loving the Lord and His precepts, and loving each other, that either one takes root and transforms us.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Early Church II-4: The Rule of Faith

 This is the 4th of 4 sections of Part II. The previous sections are:

II-1: The Martyrs
II-2: The Lapsed and the Problem of the Martyrs
II-3: Bishops and Succession


After a time a hero arose in the Church by the name of Irenaeus of Lyons. His monumental work “Against Heresies,” written between 182 and 188 AD, is lauded as a Western classic and, while it receives little attention today, the Early Church unanimously consented to its orthodoxy and power of persuasion. Irenaeus was said to have been a follower, or taught in some capacity by Polycarp, whom Irenaeus lavishes with praise as a true, concrete, and powerful proof of the Apostolic faith.

Ireneaus is not the man with whom to mess.

Irenaeus wrote this text, first, to instruct a friend of his of the many and strange beliefs of the Gnostics. Secondly, he wrote to instruct his fellow bishops (and eventually believers) of the truth of the Catholic faith. The Tradition of the Apostles alone, he says, are in harmony with Scripture and both are in harmony with the teachings of the successors to Apostles who are in concord and council with one another. This came to be known as the “Rule of Truth” or and later the “Rule of Faith.” While an exposition upon it is too complicated for our purposes here (it deserves its own treatment), some explanation is useful for us. Irenaeus' work was regarded with a great deal of honor. The historian Eusebius himself quotes it frequently some 150 years later, showing how well know and how much the text had spread in that time.

This Rule was something conceived by Irenaeus in order to protect from error as well as something to guide those seeking to understand our faith: he claims we have a wealth of resources, whether it's the example of the Apostles, the rule of their successors, the writings they all left us, and of course Scripture. The Rule is not a result of knowledge of these things, either, but rather they come about as a result of living one's faith in the Church.

The Rule, then, does not simply safeguard the faith nor is it a tool used exclusively to combat heresies. The Rule really is the expression of the life of the Church which is Christ living in the world.

Irenaeus, in book III of his work, explains that this life, a life of faith according to the Rule, can only exist within the Church which has its origin in the Apostles. The presbyters and bishops of the Church are those who safeguard this tradition and faith. Furthermore all of these bishops owe their example to “the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul … for it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church” (III.3.ii).

These Apostles were not preeminent because of their teaching alone but also because of their witness to the faith; indeed their ultimate witness of martyrdom confirmed their teaching in Christ. Irenaeus attests to the power of their example by affirming that the bishops of Rome have a unique privilege. He refers to Clement of Rome who interfered with the church at Corinth on behalf of the whole Church. Clement, Irenaeus says, wrote firmly and with authority to correct the conduct of those in Corinth. Clement could do this because he “had seen the blessed apostles … [and when dealing with Corinth had] the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears] and their traditions before his eyes” (III.3.iii). The lives of the faithful in Corinth did not correspond to the teaching of the Apostles.

In Clement's letter Irenaeus claims that Clement did not clarify Scripture for them, rather it declared “the tradition which it [Corinth] had lately received from the apostles” (Idem.) Furthermore from “this document … [one] may understand the apostolic tradition of the Church” (Idem).

A further example of the Rule being a lived faith is Irenaeus' treatment of Polycarp. Although the space dedicated to Polycarp is small the import is great. Polycarp was instructed by the apostles, was appointed bishop, exercised his role for a long time, and then suffered a glorious martyrdom “having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true” (III.3.iv) Polycarp was a supreme witness to the Rule by virtue of his martyrdom. His whole life up to that point, however, had made him “a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness to the truth [than the other heretics mentioned in books I and II]” Idem). The bishops who are in union with the teaching and lives of the Apostles, both in Rome and elsewhere, are a living example of that same faith of the Apostles and protect it from those who add or subtract from them.
The example and martyrdom of St. Bartholomew, produced just as profound effect as his teaching, you can imagine.

Should one doubt his claims, however, Irenaeus points to the “barbarians” (most likely the Germanic and Gallic tribes near Lyon) who have “salvation written in their hearts by the Spirit, without paper or ink, and, carefully [preserve] the ancient tradition” (III.4.ii) Without written documents for reference all they can rely on is what they were taught. This is so because “what is in Scripture and what is in tradition are the same, the truth about God and Christ; both contain the apostolic preaching.”*

Irenaeus calls these barbarians crude with respect to the written language but wise with respect to their love of the same apostolic faith of the Church: “Those who, in the absence of written documents, have believed this faith, are barbarians, so far as regards our language, but as regards to doctrine, manner, and tenor of life, they are, because of faith, very wise indeed” (III.4.ii.).

What they were taught is that to which Scripture attests. The barbarians, in a sense, are less susceptible to error because in living the traditions of the apostles they can more easily detect incongruent words and actions: “If anyone were to preach to these men inventions of the heretics, speaking to them in their own language, they would at once stop their ears, and flee as far off as possible, not enduring even to listen to the blasphemous address. Thus, by means of that ancient tradition of the apostles, they do not suffer their mind to conceive anything of the [doctrines suggested by the] portentous language of these teachers, among whom neither Church nor doctrine has ever been established” (III.4.ii).

Those, such as the Apostle John, and Polycarp, would be revolted at the sight of one who corrupted the truth and taught falsely. Those who lived their faith in an exemplary way could readily detect those who would poison it by their teaching or example. “Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth” (III.3.iv).

Irenaeus also speculates that if the Apostles had not left their writings behind the Church would not lack for guidance or instruction. On top of the men mentioned above who maintained the teaching of the Apostles by virtue of their authority Irenaeus argues that the churches united with Rome act in accord with one another. He advises that if “a dispute relative to some important dispute among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the Apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear[?]” (III.4.i). In the case of important questions that are under dispute, it is not enough to consult the creed or interpret Scripture. Rather Irenaeus says, “[Should we not] follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?” (Idem.). One resolves disputes, when he does not have the Scriptures, by looking at how faithful men in union with the apostles conduct themselves (and how their ancestors conducted themselves).

At this point it is important to note the pattern that Irenaeus adopts with regard to disputes in the Church. The Gnostics that he argues against are considered as “thieves and robbers,” (Idem.) but even among the faithful there are legitimate disagreements on how to handle new errors or problems. One may, looking closely at the text, see a method for how Irenaeus approaches them. His approach is to invoke and use the example of the Apostles, then Scripture. The first mention of the Rule is in Book I, chapter 9. Irenaeus in the previous chapters, gives and exposition on the sayings of the Gnostics and how they use Scripture. Irenaeus claims that when one encounters those who use Scripture falsely he can easily reject them if he “retains [as] unchangeable the rule of truth which he received by means of baptism[.]” (I.9.iv.).

(Note: It should be worth noting that receiving the Rule at Baptism would be incoherent if it were a mere reception of the sacrament (and thus receiving a special knowledge by the sacrament). It is more likely that Irenaeus means catechetical instruction since what follows in this quote is that “he [the baptized] will no doubt recognize the names, expressions, and the parables from the Scriptures, but will not means acknowledge the blasphemous use which these men make of them.” Irenaeus, however, offers no exposition on baptism or catechesis in Against Heresies, so this point is speculation. He does, however, offer some description of the initiation rites of the Gnostics, including their version of Baptism which is laced with false doctrine and shrouded in mysteries not expressed by the Apostles or Scripture (cf. I.21.iii-v). As a result, what I propose here is not an unfounded speculation.)

In the following chapter Irenaeus first says that the Church, through spread throughout the whole world, has
received from the apostles and their disciples this faith … [and none of the rulers of these various churches] however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these [mentioned in I.10.i]; nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition (I.10.i, ii. The emphasis, in italics, is mine.).

Even here, with respect to the creed in chapter 9.i, Irenaeus first defers to the faith and tradition of the Apostles before he speaks about Scriptures. This is said explicitly at the opening of Book III:

We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures. (III.1.i)

Let this brief exposition suffice, for it is much larger than this. In summary, the Rule of faith in my estimation is a life lived in harmony with the Apostles, their successors, the teachings of the Church, and Scripture, all of which derive their power, meaning, and life from God Himself. Apostolic succession is essential for the makeup of the Church and our own personal faiths.

If this is your face, I understand that it's complicated. But you made it through part II!


We were not born with power over ourselves and, as we grow older, we have those whom we must guide and others must guide us. Indeed, with regard to faith or tradition, “what do you possess that you have not received?” (1 Cor 4:7). Moreover Paul says “An athlete cannot receive the winner's crown except by competing according to the rules” (2 Tim 2:5). Likewise Paul reminds Timothy, as he does us, “You have followed my teaching, way of life, purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, and sufferings … that I endured. … Remain faithful to what you have learned and believed, because you know from who you learned it” (2 Tim 3:10, 14).

The example of the Apostles, the authority given to them and their successors, is an aspect of our faith that we would all do well to reexamine in our hearts and live more fully. While deacon, priest, and bishop may be over us in the Lord (cf. 1 Thes 5:13) as both father and brother, this does not mean that we as children, brothers, sisters, and mothers have no effect or purpose. What mother or father among you would say your child, by their disobedience, their mistakes, their successes, and their virtues has not changed you? Is it not the case that a faithful child is a source of glory and joy for a parent and uplifts them in their own faith. Is it not also the case that even their waywardness and lack of faith, however distressing, is reason to redouble your prayer and love? The same is true of our relationship with those in charge of leading us—they rejoice in us as if we were their own children, and are troubled for many nights when we fall away, cause scandal, and remain distant. Again, as I said before, God uses all these things to strengthen us if we allow Him to be with us.

I hope the examples of the martyrs inspire us, as they should, but may the beauty of our Church and the strength of her leadership, then and now, inspire us to be grateful sons and daughters to our spiritual fathers. Where we must make an account of ourselves to the Father, they must make an account of all of us. Indeed, “obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you” (Heb 13:17).

May we pray in gratitude for the martyrs whose courage emboldened the Church and the bishops, priests, and spiritual leaders of past generations guided her in her zeal. May all the work we do today be as one body working, no one considering his or her work—however small—apart from the work of the whole Church. If we work in her, according to her, even the smallest task receives the glory of the whole project. Have no contempt for those who lead or those who are highly regarded, for the wage received from the Master is the same (cf. Mt 20:1-16). Let us work, then, as one giving thanks to the Father, Son, and Spirit who give us all that is good.

*Everett Ferguson, “Paradosis and Traditio: A Word Study” in Tradition & the Rule of Faith in the Early Church: Essays in Honor of Joseph T. Leinhard, S.J., ed. Ronnie J. Rombs and Alexander Y. Hwang (Washington DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2010) 13.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

New Columnist for Ignitum Today

Hello all,

I just wanted to make this brief announcement that I was accepted as a columnist for the New Evangelization website "Ignitum Today." My first article "Ascension Thursday or Sunday?" was published today. I hope you can check it out!

This will not detract from my time here. It will be a monthly publication.

My next planned article will likely be "Vocation: Identity vs. Function," though I'm reflecting on this.

Thank you for all your support!


Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Early Church II-3: Bishops and Succession

If you haven't read section 1 you may find it here:

II-1: The Martyrs
II-2: The Lapsed and the Problem of the Martyrs
II-4: The Rule of Faith

 II-3: Bishops and Succession

We'll now move backwards in time and go along a simultaneous track in history. We'll look at the early Church from a different angle at the Church as she developed, namely the office of bishop. We discussed last week that the office of bishop was the highest office in the local Church. While absolute agreement among all bishops is very rare, they did in fact communicate with each other regularly and sought the advice of elder churches. Their concord and meetings with one another on important issues was a tradition kept from the time of the Apostles in the Council of Jerusalem.

Peter, chief among the Apostles, was given a unique ministry by Christ himself to strengthen his brothers and Scripture itself shows how he lead them. Peter and his successors spoke with the final authority on matters concerning the whole Church but, at the same time, he shared this responsibility with his brothers. That he spoke with firmness was not a matter of power but of responsibility.

While some would abuse this responsibility and others call the chair of Peter into question it remains that the Church as a whole in the early centuries of Christianity appealed to Rome (e.g., Clement of Rome) and regarded her as the highest Church.

The model of the Twelve Apostles, their authority, and succession developed over the early centuries of the Church. We would do well to gather a sense for the office of bishop as it developed in the early Church. In order to do this it seems appropriate to see the very prayer for the ordination of a bishop. This prayer is taken from a text called “On the Apostolic Tradition,” which was attributed to the (anti)pope of that time Hippolytus (217-236). His authorship has since been called into question and now stands as a text of unknown authorship, even though it seems widely used. There were conflicts that arose as a result of the “Lapsed” controversy and Hippolytus was set up as a pope, eventually an antipope. He reconciled with the Church at a later time and is listed as a man of learning and eloquence by later saints and authors. He was martyred in 236 AD, and legend says it was being quartered alive by horses.

While it's difficult to date a prayer like this, some have attributed it as early as 215 AD which most of the work is said to have been written. While others have said this work came later (such as the early-middle 300s) we can be somewhat safe in assuming that whatever was written down in this fashion was likely in practice beforehand. Many prayers like this were recorded in handbooks and rulebooks such as this in order to ensure a unity of practice. The prayer, we find, speaks to the bishop receiving the same spirit of governance that Christ received from the Father. Christ, giving this spirit of leadership to the Apostles is similarly handed down to those the Apostles selected. The prayer states,

“Even now pour out from yourself the power of the Spirit of governance, which you gave to your beloved child Jesus Christ, which he gave to the holy Apostles, who set up the Church in every place s your sanctuary, for the unceasing glory and praise of your name. … And let him have the power of high priesthood, to forgive sins according to your command, to assign duties according to your command, to loose every tie according to the power which you gave your apostles, to please you in gentleness and with a pure heart. (On the Apostolic Tradition, ch. 3:3, 5)

This is how the Church regarded the office of bishop: that it was a divine call from God to govern and shepherd his flock. He was to lead them to God and He was to make an account not only for himself but for all he shepherded. Paul tells Timothy, for example, to “attend to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in both tasks, for by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you” (1 Tim 4:16).

As time marched on, however, new difficulties arose. The Church was spreading rapidly throughout the Empire and in order to keep up with the demands of charity placed upon the Church the Apostles and bishops appointed deacons, priests, and their successors to govern the Church and perform her duties.

Each man, though, is not always endowed with the appropriate skills for the task appointed to him, and even those who are skilled at governance and leadership are subject to chance, accident, deception, and error. Some bishops, because of an overwhelming need, appointed many presbyters yet could not test their character sufficiently. Some presented this or that man as suitable for priesthood and many assented to such a suggestion. The bishop's domain, at times too large for his own good, appointed this man a priest only to have his vices and weaknesses expand under the weight of leadership. Some priests and bishops gave scandal by their deeds whereas others produced error by their words.

Not every priest or bishop did this maliciously, but the effects of error are disunity. Those who are unable to respond with humility when confronted with their error then become susceptible to both pride and anger. The prideful seek to gather others to them. The angry seek to cause dissent and disobedience among the faithful. There were those who claimed at that time, as some even do today, that the 'Holy Spirit is with me' and that by their use of Scripture they were justified in what they said.

Such people are difficult to deal with—on the one hand one must be gentle with them because the zeal fore their faith is likely real. In turn, one's knowledge of Scripture and ability to connect it to the holy Tradition of the Apostles and Church is essential. In these instances “It is good sense in a man to be slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook and offense” (Prv 20:11).

Another problem was that there were those who were keenly aware of this Tradition. They arose claiming that they were taught by the Apostles and that they themselves were their successors, but then proceeded to preach contrary to them. If they had come from a far-off land how could one dispute with their claim, especially if they were intelligent and charismatic?

It was the holy Tradition that would be the safeguard of our faith at this time. We should always be aware that when the Church emphasizes one thing at a certain time it is likely because the contrary error is most prevalent. During this period of time, the 2nd century, there were those who claimed to have a special knowledge of God and life (such as the Gnostics). There were others who denied that apostolic authority and Tradition had any weight, but rather their own interpretation of Scripture was sufficient. We'll see this more pronounced in part III when speaking of Christ and the Trinity.

Scripture itself warns us of this problem and how we should deal with it. Paul writes that “We instruct you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way and not according to the tradition they received from us” (2 Thes 3:6).

He claims, rather, that “we [your leaders] wanted to present ourselves as a model for you, so you might imitate us” (3:9). He further explains that “If anyone does not obey our word as expressed by this letter, take note of this person not to associate with him, that he may be put to shame. Do not regard him as an enemy but admonish him as a brother” (3:14-15).

Paul also urges, “Therefore, brother, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2:15).

Where Scripture is profitable and useful, it was also the case that the example of the Apostles, not all of which are recorded (just like all the deeds of Christ are not reported), was a test by which one could determine the nature and character of others.

From here we will look at the origin of the “rule of truth” which became later on the “rule of faith” (regula fidei) and how such a notion was used to combat heresy and be a model for unity among the faithful.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Teach Them to Hear His Voice

This was a reflection I gave at all Sunday masses. As part of my training in seminary we are asked to preach, usually at daily masses. We all have one Sunday mass where we preach and are evaluated by both parishioners (selected ahead of time) and the priests. This received good marks, so I hope you find it useful. The readings may be found here, and because of this I didn't cite my quotations.

6th Sunday of Easter

Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” For some these words represent a hardheadedness or desire of some to control the lives of others. I would rather have you believe that these men had all the right intentions. These were Jewish converts to Christianity and taught that the law of Moses is what leads to Christ. In their minds, having all people follow the law of Moses was not only necessary, but it was the best way to live.

As is the case with so many things in life, what we believe to be the best and proper disposition may in fact be the most burdensome. We devote a great deal of our time to planning and working out many things to our advantage. Dedicating ourselves to our work and providing for ourselves and those we love are important. We say things such as “I want to do my best” and “I want what's best for my children.”

At the same time, in the few quiet moments we're given, have you asked yourself “What does God want for me?”

The Apostles responded to their brothers and to the whole Church: “It is the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond [the] necessities [we all share]” (cf. Acts 15:28).

The Apostles give a pronouncement that is sound advice up to this very day: do nothing that impedes the will of the Lord God. My brothers and sisters, while certainly our sins block out the words of Christ in the world, even our good intentions and motives can do the same. Like these men who urged others to follow the Mosaic Law, we also say “When I do this....” or “When he or she does that” then they will be happy.

As parents, allow your children to hear God's voice; teach them to hear His voice. He does not always speak in a thunderclap but many times He speaks in a quiet whisper.

His voice is simple and his call is clear: “Follow me. Take up your cross and follow me.” The cross is not only the struggles we face in life but also the task that he has appointed to each and every one of us.

Parents, teachers, and adults: if you see the qualities of priesthood or religious life in young men acknowledge it, for you may be the voice of God speaking to their hearts. If you see the qualities of religious life in young women, acknowledge it, for they yearn in their hearts to serve God.

All of us, whether married or single, are called to spiritual fatherhood and motherhood. No priest, brother, or sister is without children and the Lord provides abundantly for them.

Therefore, do not be troubled, for Christ says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.” The peace and security we promise on our own is a raging storm compared to the tranquility Christ promises. Indeed, “not as the world gives” does Christ give peace to us.

Do not be afraid, troubled or hesitant if a child or someone you know seeks priesthood or religious life. This is a blessing, and there is no greater peace or security than discerning God's will at a young age. God forms each of us during our lives so that we become the person he wants us to be.

There are those who do not listen to His voice. For some, it is because the Word was never spoken. For others, they never listened.

Jesus says in our gospel today, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.

How can we keep His word, my brothers and sisters, if we do not listen or call others to listen? His word is found here, at the holy mass, and proceeds out to the world from its source, the Eucharist.

But if we keep His word, responding to it little by little, the Father will love us with that same intense love that He loves Christ with for all eternity. In that growing love the Spirit dwells in us—our bodies become a temple.

When we receive the Eucharist we should not only place him in our mouths but also place Him in the tabernacle of our hearts. We then carry a place of repose in us and here we find strength for the task appointed to us. Return to Him and He will speak to you.

The Eucharist is Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh. Listen to Jesus and let the Word remain in you. As the Psalm says, “So may your way be known upon earth; among all nations, your salvation.” We, everyone gathered here, are called to make His way known to all nations. It begins in our hearts and in our homes, opening them both to Him: “Lord, let your face shine upon us!”

Sunday, May 5, 2013

The Early Church II-2: The Lapsed and the Problem of the Martyrs

If you haven't read section 1 you may find it here:

II-1: The Martyrs
II-3: Bishops and Succession
II-4: The Rule of Faith

The 'Martyrdom of Polycarp' is a powerful example of how Christians regarded martyrs and the practices that surrounded those who were martyred. We'll recall what was said of blessed Polycarp:
“Of the elect the most wonderful Polycarp was certainly one—an apostolic and prophetic teacher in our times, and a bishop of the Catholic Church at Smyrna” (sec. 16).

How, then, could problems arise from such courageous and promising examples of our faith? Justin Martyr said of martyrdom, “He who denies anything [of our Catholic faith], either denies it because he has condemned it, or shrinks from confessing it, because he knows himself to be unworthy of and alien to it; neither of which is that of a true Christian” (2nd Apology, sec. 2).

Herein lies our problem: it was the case that many on account of fear, coercion, and violence fled from the Church, fled from persecution, or renounced the faith. These men and women became known as the “lapsed” for they did not proclaim Christ in times of trial. When persecutions died down they, on account of love of Christ sought to return but were in many places rejected. You can understand the zeal of those who stood before the flames of persecution: they and their loved ones died and were disfigured for the One they loved. Those who were scattered, some out of cowardice, sought to share in the same Eucharist again.
Martyrdom is difficult to witness and accept in all ages. Not all are prepared at this moment to accept Christ's life even unto death. Some were and became glorious examples as a result. Here is one depiction of the martyrdom of Paul Miki and companions, Japan 1597.

There were many disputes, as a result, of what to do. Some admitted these 'lapsed Catholics' back into the Church, but only after a lengthy period of penitence which included fasting, intense prayer, moral scrutinies, and being kept from the Eucharist for a period of time, sometimes 7 years or until they were on their deathbed. Others, harsher still, said that all men have only one chance—to deny Christ is to permanently cast one out from His presence.

Those who had witnessed many cruel martyrdoms were intolerant with those who wished to return. Bishops and believers in many churches held such a stance because of (1) the high esteem they held the martyrs in and (2) the lesson of the martyrs was that it was better to choose death than life. Those who ran, they believed, chose 'life' and thus forfeited it.

The zeal of the martyrs was well-founded, but the devil—ever the deceiver—seeks to use even our zeal and courage to cause division. The martyrs and their followers wanted to protect the Church from those who would perhaps again apostatize and give the others into slavery and death. A martyr, it should be stated, does not seek death but rather accepts it when it comes to him. Of of the great phrases describing saints and martyrs in found in Revelations: “Love of life did not deter them from death” (Rev 12:1). Those who were confessors, ones who survived torture, could be strict in regards to the lapsed. It was backed by the scars, dismemberment, and disfigurement they wore. Likewise, many sought them for spiritual courage and advice.
Satan does not deceive us by revealing what is evil, he uses our love of what is good and turns it against us. C.S. Lewis' Screwtape Letters is a good allegory/reflection of that.
"Satan Exulting Over Eve" by William Blake, c. 1795.

The bishops, some sympathetic and others not, had to decide how to deal with these Catholics who had fallen away. Cyprian, in his work “On the Unity of the Church,” claimed that those martyred outside the Church had no merit and that even confessors could be subject to error and sin. While his words, to numerous to write here, may seem harsh his message is a sound one: even those of us who have proven ourselves courageous in faith and steadfast in truth are subject to error. Zeal for the faith is a trust in what that faith teaches, but there are times when that trust becomes not a trust in faith but a trust in ourselves.

An additional lesson is that experience is valuable, but not infallible. Those who are experts in patience are not necessarily experts in teaching patience through their words. God has given certain gifts to each of us, but we must be on guard that this gift does not become a source of pride. Likewise, each gift must be attended by humility and obedience. Bishops and priests had been given the gift, that is the grace, of leadership and governance. It does not mean they are without error, but it does mean that division is the direct result of those who outright deny the priest or bishop. Priests and bishops are, in turn, accountable to those whom they serve as well as the counsel and concord of their brother presbyters and the whole Church.

We should, however, look with sympathy upon the martyrs just as we look with understanding upon those who fled. The decision of the pope (Stephen at this time, 256 AD) was that the Lapsed were to be readmitted as penitents in the Church.

One thing, among many, was made clear: In this period the Church had “to deal with the all-too-human phenomenon of failure” (Sommer 248). Even the lapsed felt guilt and shame for their former renunciations. The order of the bishops—many bishops disagreed and dissented all the same—was that they be readmitted, albeit slowly. It's possible that they took their cue from the Apostles who scattered when Christ was struck down. Peter himself denied Christ three times and afterward wept bitterly. His sorrow, and his restoration by Christ, in turn made him a powerful advocate for the faith. This was the hope of the bishops and others who sought reconciliation: that the Lapsed might become even stronger in their faith by means of forgiveness, penance, and instruction—we can see the seeds of the sacrament of confession arise from this situation.
It was through forgiveness that Peter was restored to Christ and it was because of this Peter was prepared to give his entire person to Christ. An important lesson for us when we fail, and especially when others fail.

We see that God works in all things, that even the zeal of the martyrs and scandal (for some) of the Lapsed produced a conflict that would force the Church and her leaders to consider more carefully the extent and character of her forgiveness and unity. Truly, it reaffirms that God uses all of our affections and triumphs to draw us closer to him, despite the trials we and every generation must undergo.

We have observed that “there arose no little dissension and debate” (Acts 15:3) on the issues mentioned above. Dissension arose among the lay faithful, priests, and bishops alike. People's lives and souls were at stake, but at the same time the Church emphasized proper teaching and took her faith seriously. How did the Church address such problems? Moreover, how did the Church maintain unity of churches and thought? It all stems from our notion of “Tradition” (mentioned in part I) which comes from Apostolic succession. What developed in response to this and many other conflicts was the “Rule of Truth,” which we'll explore in the next section.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Where the Spirit Leads

If they hated me they will hate you. If they kept my word they will also keep yours. This is a cause for hope as well as a word of caution. Christ tells us that those who hated Christ will continue to hate him in you. But there are also those whose hearts are ready to receive Him and yet they wait for you to come to them. Then when you do come to them Christ will be there for that person as well.

The Acts of the Apostles relates this notion to us. Paul and Timothy desired to go to a number of places but they could not on account of the Holy Spirit. It wasn't until a dream told Paul that Macedonia needed him that he was allowed to continue. When we mold our ministry and evangelization according to our wishes it's likely that we won't reach our goal. When we listen to the Spirit and go where it leads us we will be doing God's work in a greater capacity.

Discerning God's call can be difficult, but one manner of discerning His will is seeing what is available to us. Paul never took extraneous means to preach God's word. When he was traveling to communities already established he uplifted his brethren in those communities. When he came to a place in need of Christ's message he proclaimed it. And when he was thrown in prison he preached the Word in prison. Part of doing what God intends for us doesn't require any great plans on our part, it comes from bringing Him with you wherever you go. If you are a mother have Christ with you. If you pray for others, place them before His altar. If you labor during the day, keep His precepts with you.

In this way Christ will be alongside you and in living this way you will come to know the Spirit's will. As you grow in Him the Spirit will lead you to where you need to go. Do not abandon where you are in hopes of doing more. If the Spirit desires more he will bring more to you. Realize that 'no slave is greater than his master.' Christ was obedient to the will of the Father, doing His will one place at a time. With that same trust and obedience, let us do the same.


This is a reflection I gave today (5/4/2013). The readings may be found here. Please comment. If you've like what you've read, please +1 it, as it helps me! ~M

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Early Church II-1: The Martyrs

(This is the extended, written version of a presentation I gave on 4/30/2013. 

This is II-1. If you haven't read "The Early Church I" yet, I would recommend it. All links are at the bottom of this article.)


Last time we examined the message of Christianity and how it was presented to both Jew and Gentile. The message of Christ was a message of dignity, divine sonship and daughterhood, and a noble mission, namely the salvation of all in the name of Christ Jesus.

This, however, came with many difficulties. There were many who refused to hear the message. Others simply saw God as one among many appropriating what was profitable to them in the Christian message. Others reacted violently. Of these three, it may seem strange to hear that the second problem, corrupted teaching, was actually the most destructive to the Church. While there were those who were outside the Church who simply selected a few points and incorporated them into their pagan theology there were plenty of Christians who, because of culture, (both abundance and lack of) learning, and zeal, caused a great deal of trouble by their words.

In order to counteract these false teachings and bad influences the Church, beginning with the Apostles, established very quickly a structure of bishop, priest, and deacon in order to preserve and protect the content of the Apostolic faith. The bishop was a direct descendent of the Apostles, a relationship we'll explore later on. It was through the office of the bishop that we became known as “Catholic” and it was only around such a man that the Church was said to be. “Tradition,” likewise, properly understood was not only the words and actions of Christ but also the words and actions of the Apostles and their successors who were given a unique office (cf. Acts 1:20) by Christ (cf. Jn 20:19-23). Peter among the Twelve was given an important ministry and office. The title bishop means “overseer” and Peter was appointed overseer of his brothers. He exercised this authority clearly in Scripture yet, as Christ proclaimed, he did not lord over them (cf. Lk 22:25) but rather acted as a supreme example to his brothers and his flock (cf. 1 Pet 5:5).

Christians were likewise persecuted in waves of varying intensity from the Church's inception at Pentecost until 313 AD, after the persecutions of Diocletian. Christ, however, said it plainly: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me … whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). Peter said his disciples, “Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same attitude” (1 Pet 4:1) and “Do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening. Rather, rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly” (1 Pet 4:13). Paul says it even more simply, “All who want to live religiously in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12).

This brings us to the opening of our discussion: the martyrs. In what manner did their witness to Christ shape the early Christians and the Church? Likewise, what problems did they cause for the Church moving forward?

II-1: The Martyrs

The word martyr literally means “witness” yet that witness is more than proclaiming Christ with our words or good deeds. This is the witness that testifies to Christ crucified in the most concrete way: by giving up one's life in the same manner Christ did. Christ died for love of us, the martyrs died for love of Christ and neighbor—even persecutor.

Death is something that was trivialized in the Roman Empire just as it is today. The delight in the fall of one's enemies, the desire to oppress those who fought but no longer can, to see those whom we hate suffer cruelly for their injustice are all forms of bloodlust. The Romans were desensitized to blood, perhaps more than we are, because their violence was very real and designed, at its worst, to humiliate and break their captives. 

Not to mention entertainment.

Imagine, now, a group of men and women who stood in the face of death proudly. Rather than cowering in fear and succumbing to cruelty they openly proclaimed Christ. They prayed for their enemies and would not let death itself keep them from the One they loved. They acted as if life itself was an obstacle to their ultimate goal and that the threat of death held no sway. To a people soaked in blood and self-centeredness this was a shock to their system. With such a sharp contrast to their way of life two responses resulted: (1) even greater and inflamed hatred or (2) a complete conversion of heart. Very few could stand by indifferent to the example of the martyrs.

Before we examine the martyrs we should keep in mind a few aspects: not every Roman leader hated Christians, nor did every governor or provincial enact laws of persecution—Christians were in many places model citizens, and in many cases Romans sought to dispel a sect or a cult by killing their leaders. There was little effect to killing scores of common men and women. Priests, bishops, deacons, and those admired by the community were sought above the laity (Courtesy of Sommer, We Look for a Kingdom, 222).

Let us examine in sort, then, how the Church viewed martyrdom. While we ourselves can say many nice things about the martyrs it is worthwhile to examine how our Church Fathers and Scripture regarded the power and significance of them. It will help us, in turn, understand how Christians of that period responded to and sought the martyrs.

Justin Martyr, an apologist and martyr of the Church was a well educated man with an extensive knowledge of philosophy. Justin cited one of the reasons for his conversion in his 2nd Apology: “I was delighted in the teachings of Plato, and heard the Christians slandered, and saw them fearless of death, and of all other things which are counted fearful, [I] saw that it was impossible that they could be living in wickedness and pleasure. For what sensual or intemperate person, or whoever counts it good to feast on human flesh, could welcome death that he might be deprived of his enjoyments[?]” (2nd Apology, sec. 12).

The common conception of Christians at this time (2nd century) was that they were atheists and cannibals. All manner of slander and myths were circulated about Christians so that they seemed to be enemies to humanity and to the state. For example: Tacitus, the famous Roman historian, said that Christians were “a sect that hates the human race” (Annals 15:44). Yet in the face of hatred many men and women showed love. In the face of cruelty is was the Christians who showed themselves to be civilized. It remains an important lesson for us today; the world will see us as enemies and fools and in these instances our words and actions should be as blameless as they can. When our adversaries comment on our faults, sinfulness, and errors accept them as a blessing. When we can present His message without fault—as best we can—the the words of others against His message are destined to fall. Time will reveal their lack of wisdom.
Modern examples exist in abundance.

Scripture likewise conveys this to us. The first martyr, Stephen the deacon, stands before a hostile crowd speaking in the Spirit. It says “his face was like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15) and yet his words of condemnation to the wicked were like a sword. “You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always oppose the holy Spirit; you are just like your ancestors. … You received the law as transmitted by angels, but you did not observe it” (Acts 7:51, 53). As the crowd raged toward him he looked up to heaven, giving thanks that he should suffer for Jesus' name. He forgave those who killed him and, after his death, “devout men buried Stephen and made a loud lament over him” (Acts 8:3).

Interestingly in this story is that Scripture says “I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” and “Lord Jesus, receive my Spirit” (7:56, 59). Would there be any doubt his spirit was received? Christ on the cross proclaimed to the repentant thief “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43, cf. Mt 37:45-56). If Christ said this at the request of the penitent sinner do you think he would deny the request of the one who, filled with His Spirit and dying for His name, would be refused any request?

To this effect, and to answer this question, I present a story relayed to us by Eusebius, the earliest 'historian' of the Church. Writing in the 4th century he was considered the “Father of Church History.” All histories written around this period and after him by other Christians begin at the end of his work as if to acknowledge his writing (cf. Penguin Classics version, xviii, 1989).

He writes many accounts of persecutions and martyrs, one which I think will be useful to consider in brief:

Potamiaena was a virgin and martyr who was condemned along with her mother for being Christian. She “and her mother Marcella found fulfillment in fire.” Her mother was killed and she was subject to a number of humiliations and tortures. A soldier in her midst, Basilides, seized her and led to her to place of execution. The crowd pressed around her seeking to strike her while insulting her but Basilides drove them back and showed this woman “the utmost pity and kindness.” Potamiaena, accepting his sympathy told him that “when she had gone away she would ask her Lord for him, and it would not be long before she repaid him for all he had done for her. … She face her end with noble courage—slowly, drop by drop, boiling pitch was poured [over her]. Such was the battle won by this splendid girl.”

Some days later Basilides was asked by his fellow soldiers to take again the military oath by which they all swore. He refused saying he was a Christian. They thought he was joking, but he asserted all the more of this fact. His comrades threw him in prison and those from the Church visited him there asking him the reason. He told them that “three days after her martyrdom Potamiaena stood before him in the night, put a wreath about his head, and said she had prayed for him to the Lord, had obtained her request, and before long would place him by her side.” At once those present baptised him and on the next day he was beheaded. It was said that in Alexandria, where all this took place, many other came to believe having seen this same girl in their dreams calling them to Jesus Christ. (see Eusebius, EH 6.5).

In this brief story that I've paraphrased we see a number of things: the courage of a martyr, her influence while living, and her power when she had life eternal. The martyrs were said to work miracles after their deaths and be catalysts to many conversions. Such interactions, that is saints speaking to others after their death, are not explicitly in Scripture, however, so how shall we consider this story?

We recall that in Revelations that there were those who “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night” (Rev 7:14-15). But it says later on that “I saw thrones and those who sat on them were entrusted with judgment. I also saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God … They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years [that is, for this Age] … blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first Resurrection. … they will reign with him for [the] thousand years” (Rev 20:4-6).
Prayer to the saints is effective not because the saints have power on their own, but because in their total loss-of-self in martyrdom they were given a share of the throne of Christ in this Age. All of it is for our benefit.

The first thousand years is not a literal time but an expression of forever (or, for the duration of this Age). We remain in this period of the first “thousand years” whereas the new heavens and new earth is the Age-yet-to-come, the Resurrection of the Body. Indeed, while we remain as pilgrims here on earth there were those, as Scripture attests, who sit on thrones with Christ. The ones on thrones are the ones martyred in the name of Christ. That they sit on a throne means they have power, and their power is precisely their intercession with Christ on behalf of all souls on heaven and earth. For it was not Christ himself who converted Basilides, but rather Christ through a young girl who converted him. This story relates that the ever-living martyr did not desire power nor did she seek revenge on her persecutors. Like Christ who proclaims “Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15) she called others to do the same. All of us too are called to be witnesses to Christ—some will witness by our lives, others by our deaths.

Martyrs across the whole empire produced this effect. Perhaps one of the most famous martyrologies that has come down to us is the Martyrdom of Polycarp, bishop to the Church in Smyrna (which was a Greek city in Ionia at the time). He was an old man when he was martyred, perhaps 80 or 85 at his death.

This account, however, was written in the 4th century (perhaps 310 AD) while he is believed to have been martyred in the 2nd century around 155 AD). This account has been shown, over time, to not give us any real historical knowledge of Polycarp, but the story itself allows us to see a number of things: (1) the great character of the man written about, (2) the practices concerning such men and women by the faithful, (3) the pride communities took in such examples of their faith. Much of what we get about Polycarp can be gathered from the letter to the Philippians attributed to him, what Ignatius of Antioch says of him in his letter, of various fragments, most notably by his great admirer and fellow bishop Irenaeus of Lyons.

With this being said as an aside, I will select a few quotes that, while not strict history insofar as the exact events described are not historical, they are history insofar as they convey the attitudes of a Christian people. I think you'll see how it correlates with the story above.

Concerning Polycarp's martyrdom it says that the act was “certainly a mark of true and steadfast love, not only to desire one's salvation, but that of all the brethren as well” (Martyrdom, sec. 1).

Those who martyred Polycarp kept his body from those who sought it because “many … were eager to [lay hold of him] and have a share in his holy remains” (Martyrdom, sec. 17). This one indication of relics we have early on, but such an indication also comes from Scripture—that the articles of holy men and women, and that which touched them, had power associated with them. It says “So extraordinary were the might deeds God accomplished at the hands of Paul that when face clothes or aprons that touched his skin were applied to the sick, their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them” (Acts 19:11-12).

The reverence given to and practices concerning the martyrs is encapsulated nicely here: “[We] took up his bones, more precious than costly stones and more excellent than gold, and interred them in a decent place. There the Lord will permit us, as far as possible, to assemble in rapturous joy and celebrate his martyrdom—his birthday—both to commemorate the heroes that have gone before, and to train and prepare the heroes yet to come” (Martyrdom, sec. 18).

Of Polycarp himself it was said “Of the elect the most wonderful Polycarp was certainly one—an apostolic and prophetic teacher in our times, and a bishop of the Catholic Church at Smyrna” (sec. 16).
"Your life among the Gentiles must be beyond reproach; thus by your good example you will win praise for yourselves, and the Lord will not be blasphemed on your account" (Letters to the Philippians, sec. 16).

Next, we shall see how even with such courageous witnesses the Church faced problems as a result of their impact. We'll examine how such difficulties arose and the response, in brief, of the Church.


Links to "The Early Church I: "History, Morality, Being Called Catholic, and the Papacy"

I-1: Prologue and History
I-2: Organization of the Early Church 
I-3: Why are we called "Catholic"?