Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tradition before Scripture

I'm beginning to believe more and more that it will be impossible to convince someone who believes in sola Scriptura that it's wrong. Not only do I find it to be wrong, but it's simply something that's illogical from our experience of the ordinary.

"What makes it illogical?" some may ask, "After all, doesn't Jesus defy logic and doesn't the ordinary fall away with the presence of the divine?"

I would answer, simply, "No."

The incarnation of our Lord is evidence enough that the ordinary does not fall away in the presence of the divine. The ordinary is mixed together, indistinguishably, from the divine. "Mixture" is an approximation of this reality, mind you.

The burning bush that stood before Moses "and behold, the bush was burning, but it was not consumed" (Ex 3:2). Resplendent with God's power, the bush did not pass away. The Eucharist is another such example. By the power of the Spirit through the one priesthood of Jesus, common bread and wine are transformed. These things become the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ, but the properties of bread and wine do not pass away. Indeed, "thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."
"By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity" (Order of the Mass, s.24).; another link

In our own lives God encounters us more through the ordinary than through the "extra-ordinary." Certainly some experience the special grace of visions, prophecies, and the like. But even these men and women would be called ungrateful if they didn't recognize the many signs, blessings, and messages they receive through the ordinary.

God speaks to us through prayer, the inquiry of a child, a sight that strikes us for no particular reason, or an insight while doing something mundane.

Anyone in their right mind, believing in God and Scripture, recognizes that God is not limited by time or space. All the same it's evident that God Himself acts in time and space because He desires to relate to us and to be with us. The message of the Old Testament is that God does not abandon his people. He is with them, guiding them throughout history with His own hand, visible to those willing to look.

Returning, then, to my original notion: How does this relate to Tradition, let alone the thought that Tradition precedes Scripture? How is belief in "Scripture alone" contradictory to the experience of faith and common experience?

In order to help with this notion, I feel an analogy will be helpful. This came to me while praying this morning.

Scripture is something permanent and fixed, yet it is also something that the reader experiences in a variety of ways. In this manner, Scripture is a lot like a photo. A photo is something that captures a moment so everyone can see what the photographer wanted them to see. Say that the photo was taken at a party, but someone who wasn't there looks at it. He may be able to deduce from certain things in the photo that it was, in fact, a party. On the other hand, he may get it completely wrong.

Tradition is something lived, something fluid, but also a continuation of what came before. Tradition is like an event worth being photographed. The people at the event recognize it as special in some way and wish to remember it. These same people look at the photo and recognize instantly its significance. Those who weren't there learn all the back-stories, nuances, jokes, etc. from those who were there.

Without Tradition there would be no Scripture. Scripture helps us to remember, Tradition helps us to understand. Both are from the Spirit, because the opportunity for both is a gift.

Tradition is not merely the mundane or something that we hold onto because we're afraid. Tradition, properly speaking, is something we cherish because those whom we love cherished it.

In regards to God, Tradition is not a source of fond memories, it's continuing the work that was begun long ago. The wedding photo from 50 years ago reminds a couple of where they began and how far they've come. The graduation photo reminds her of her accomplishments and how much more she wants to accomplish.
This picture is a major event in my past, but could you identify by just looking at it what it was, or what significance it had for me?

Scripture is something special, but it would not exist if the faithful, gathered in one place, thought it would not be profitable and useful to their children and their children's children. The prophets or others recorded their words so future generations would recognize their fulfillment. The Apostles and their communities recorded their words to keep safe the teaching that Christ had given them.

In all these cases, their words would be incomprehensible without a line of teachers, believers who loved what was given to them and who understood their significance from the source. Indeed, many false teachers can arise in the name of God. Many speak eloquently with Scripture and reason. Only those who know Scripture and the Tradition from which it came can argue validly against them.

The Spirit, Scripture, and Tradition all protect against pride, but Tradition protects against the pride of personal enlightenment.

With Scripture alone, we have photos from long ago that mean what we want them to mean. Without Tradition, the Bible becomes my bible.

Friday, July 26, 2013

It's Easy to Blame Someone Else

I am not necessarily a disciplined person. When I set out to do one task I get distracted by the thought of 100 others. I worry about time management, am at times anxious about the future, and at other times prefer to do what I want instead of doing what I need to do.

Recently in the news Heisman trophy winner Johnny Manziel apologized for missing a meeting. He eventually was asked to leave a football camp he was asked to help at. He claims that his alarm didn't go off while others were wondering if the 20 year old was out drinking or something else. Whatever the truth may be his comments were more revealing. He was a young man thrust into the spotlight because of his abilities and seemingly annoyed that such a big fuss was being made over what seems like a small event to him (there were, of course, other events surrounding this).

He commented that he's "just 20 years old" and that he's "going to live his life to the fullest." He said he apologized to one of his coaches for, basically, 'everyone else making a big deal about it.'

I never got the sense the apology was entirely sincere or self-referential. He wasn't particularly sorry about missing the meeting. He was more sorry everyone had to notice.

He said what he said was because of outside pressure. This came to mind because today I wondered about how I say "I'm sorry" when I make a mistake. Do I blame my circumstances? How busy I am? Do I say, "I'll just make mistakes"?

In spiritual direction I've talked about how I'm trying to listen to my conscience more. Rather, I find that I can hear it compelling me to this or that and yet, all the same, I choose to ignore it because "I'm busy" or some other excuse.

Over the past few months, maybe even a year, there have been periods in my life where I don't feel God's presence, or I get bogged down with worries about the future. These worries keep me from prayer. I would go to spiritual direction or try and figure things out and it would seem nothing was working.

I began to question. I said, "I probably need a new spiritual director," or "If only I had more time," and other times, "If only I didn't let myself get more distracted."

All of these were fancy ways of rationalizing to myself why I didn't pray. I realized that perhaps God isn't far from me because He'll let me sort myself out. Perhaps He's farther away because I'm not going to Him.

It's very simple, really. It's just difficult to execute because in the process we have to accuse ourselves.

I notice often that there are times when I'm going about the tedium of my day and right in the middle of my heart there's a voice that says, "You should pray." Many times it forces me to stop right there. On days where I am stronger, more courageous, I respond. I stop idling and pray--and often times I come across something profitable and useful. Other times I shake my head and continue about as normal--I was too busy, no doubt.

I think the same is true for all of us:

"I don't get anything out of the mass."
"I have too much going on."
"I just pray differently, you know?"
"It doesn't fulfill me."
"I could be doing something else."

When our heart tells us it's time to do something we should, naturally, reflect on it. Plenty of people act on impulse and do stupid or wicked things.  We can feel compelled to eat, to go out and drink, to have sex, to sleep, or any other sort of bodily pleasure. People follow them to relax. Many people follow them to escape. Yet the impulse to prayer is one that's harder to explain away.

Prayer costs nothing and forces us to look at ourselves deeply. What do we really want? What do we really need? Are we who we ought to be?

All of us have a conscience, inspired by grace, to lead us to God. When we come to recognize what's right that's one battle. Doing it, on the other hand, that's the war.

Pray for me, and pray for all of us, that we listen to the voice of God constantly speaking to the deepest corners of our heart. Pray even more that we act upon those words.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"We are the Church," she said....

I was giving a talk at my home parish on the early Church (part I-1) when a woman came up to me. Pointing at her heart she indicated that we, the people, are the Church. I couldn't deny her sincerity, nor do I think her intentions were wrong.

I come across this sentiment from time to time. I recall when I was in Washington DC, helping with catechesis, a particular follow-up meeting for the newly ordained. The deacon of this parish was brought in to explain a few things. My 20-year-old self was a bit appalled by his teaching. He was saying, "You don't have to genuflect to the tabernacle. Most people don't even know what that means. If you're going to bow or reverence anything it should be the people because without them there is no Church."

I interjected, "We genuflect because the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is housed there and we reverence His Holy presence."

He continued by saying something along the lines of 'but isn't God in each of us?'

I was happy when a number of newly baptized spoke up, many of them young to middle aged (28-45) saying "the purpose of going to mass, most of all, is the Eucharist" and "if no one knows why we genuflect why aren't we teaching them?"

In one part I was sad that these men and women, newly formed in Christ and possessing the fervor of a new convert, were met immediately and in their own home with divisive error, stubbornness, and borderline heresy. Nevertheless, I think it shows that no matter how close to home we are we have to be on guard from error.

Perhaps this deacon had lived through a time where the faithful did not respect each other. Perhaps he had some vision of Church that he couldn't let go. Whatever the reason his message was "We are the Church, we should not reverence the Eucharist but each other."

Fast forwarding to the present day: I wish I had this insight 5 years ago. All the same it came to my mind now and so I share it in hopes that it helps you, the reader.

I told her, more or less, that "We are certainly the Church. We were baptized and we as human beings can receive God's grace. We were also given a mission and entrusted to carry it out.

"You'll recall, however, that in the Old Testament God himself called the people of Israel together. In this sense the people were Israel. But God didn't stop there, did He? He formed a covenant with His people. He gave them priests, prophets, kings, laws, and a host of other things. People as people weren't Israel alone, it was the people committed to a certain way of life and a certain structure. This is how they were properly called children of God."

Afterward, this morning in fact, I reflected on what I had said. Perhaps these words would have helped:

Peter, in Scripture, tells us "like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5).

In this sense we are the Church, but only so much as the stones of a church are the church. For you see, without a plan to build that church the stones remain scattered, disorganized, and contribute little to nothing. Likewise, if the building didn't have a purpose those stones would have never been gathered in the first place.
Each man living according to what he thought was right.

A church has structure. It has rules, it has order, and it has reason behind it. Likewise a church has a purpose. It gathers people to one spot for worship, for praise, for atonement, and it gathers them to be closer to God.

A church is not a church without its plan, without its purpose, or without its materials (or its people). The Church herself is God's gift to us. It's a structure that we inherit and it's a body that we're incorporated into. As living members of that Body we are indeed important and special. But we can only exercise our mission, our specialness, and our faith within that Church. The purpose of building a church is not to look at it from afar and comment, "It's a very nice building."

A church is built to be prayed in, loved in, and to worship God. Living apart from God's plan makes us as useful as a stone in a field. Living according to the structure and purpose of the Church glorifies God and stands tall with all others with us as a physical sign for all to see.

We are the Church, but only when we consciously choose to humble ourselves, making ourselves fit together like stones meant for building.

Those who claim that faith is only a personal relationship with Jesus are like stones that wish to remain stones. Peter, I believe, uses the image of "living stones" in a very particular way. A stone is something essential to a solid building, but a stone does not "build," rather it is something "built with." A stone submits itself to the builder. Paul himself said, "According to the commission of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid the foundation, and another man [my successor] is building upon it" (1 Cor 3:10).

A stone that does not submit itself to the builder is a stone that's cast away or one that's in need of work. Paul, leader to his people, says, "We are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building" (3:9). And even if one builds with Christ as his foundation it does not mean that his building will stand. When we entrust ourselves with building we may end in ruin. When we submit ourselves to wise builders we endure.

Some men are good builders but they adopt a plan apart from generations of planners. Some men, like Luther for example, forsook the Tradition of his fathers. Rather, because he saw many stones were weak he decided that the plan for the Church was at fault and not the stones or the builders. Well, he blamed the builders but he also eventually blamed the plan.

The integrity of a structure like the Church depends first on its foundation, but it depends on more thereafter, if we're to believe 1 Corinthians chapter 3. The integrity of the Church requires humility from her members so that, like stones, that may make a temple pleasing to the Lord.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Pacific Rim Movie Review

Pacific Rim Movie Review (no spoilers)

Before getting to the movie proper I'd like to take a look at a few of the previews.

Preview Predictions

Elysium (coming Aug. 9, 2013)

A story about a overpopulated world stuck in hunger and poverty and where a giant Halo ring hovers above the sky full of rich white people who wear argyle sweaters and play golf. Either the planet Earth is a world where the contraceptive mentality failed or we get to see the failures of the non-contraceptive mentality. Overpopulation seems to center around that. The overpopulation becomes the MacGuffin Max (Matt Damon) needs to infiltrate Elysium.

I could tell this movie would be “great” when the previews show interviews of Jodie Foster, Matt Damon, and Sharlto Copley (Kreuger) started explaining to us the intricacies of the movie.

Jodie Foster told us she was the antagonist.
Matt Damon explained to us how he is the protagonist.
“Kruger” explained how the antagonist brought him in to initiate conflict with the protagonist. They explain how Kruger is “dragged into all of this” by the actions of the protagonist.

The trailer then went on to explain that there would be scenes of action of increasing intensity until one scene was particularly intense. As a movie goer it's nice to know the movie would follow a series of events from beginning to end.

Prediction at release: * ½ stars

2Guns (coming Aug. 2, 2013)

The charismatic Marcus Wahlburg delivers lines almost like he memorized them. Denzel Washington acts like an angry black guy when he's angry, which is most of the trailer. They take away his wife 25 years his junior and he gets really angry. The movie has Wahlburg and Denzel act as undercover agents who blow things up. Eventually the mob gets involved and then the CIA. The question that Tommy Wisseau asked is the one we ask all these years later: Can you really trust anyone?

Prediction at release: ** (deserves less) Denzel, please do good/fun movies again.

Gravity (coming Oct. 4, 2013)

The camera spins around until you feel sick as poorly times satellites and space debris hit the unluckiest space mission ever.

Prediction at release: *

Pacific Rim Review

I won't waste your time. As a theater experience and as a movie experience Pacific Rim is worth it. I didn't bother seeing it in 3D and I'm glad I didn't. I think the sheer amount of activity and energy of this film would tire your eyes adjusting to 3D. In IMAX, however, I imagine this would be even cooler.

The movie features really cool set designs, a list of good actors (and above average acting), enjoyable fights, and a story that is simple (monsters are bad, we must fight them!) but enjoyable.

The Robots: the robots, mecha, or whatever you want to call them are interesting in their own right. The pilots are called Jaegers (hunters) who are part of a global initiative to protect the Pacific coast lands from the Kaiju (monsters). If you've ever played the old PS2 game “Ring of Red,” the robots there as well as here have a creaky, slow, and intentional movements. They feel heavy, they punch hard, and they look as realistic as you could expect for what you're looking at. I suppose it's much like Robot Jox, a movie I've only seen in pieces.

The cockpits themselves are real set pieces which adds to the realism, if you will, of the movie. You can see the characters struggle with the machinery, wind up their punches, and experience the effects of being flung, punch, and whipped through the air. Real effects are hard to come by these days, I appreciated them. There was a great deal of CGI also but it was clouded by water spray, darkness, and other additional layer-effects that help keep us focused on the action and not the “fakeness” of what's happening. This, I believe, will serve the movie well. The editing does a good job of focusing our eyes on real effects and then moving back to CGI just enough so it tricks us into keeping the two close together.

The robot designs are different and attractive. While the main mecha was sleek, I enjoyed the bruiser robot the Russians piloted. It's too bad it didn't get more air time.

The Monsters: somewhat neat designs. For me, they weren't particularly interesting. They moved well, fought with a variety of styles, and felt as heavy as the mechs. I perhaps could have used more color. I suppose it's hard to be creative. The first monster, “knife head,” that opens the movie was perhaps the most interesting.

The Characters:

Charlie Hunnam, our main character Rakeigh, is a decent enough actor. He was never too cocky, too emotional, too sulky. Confident in his abilities, serious about his duty, but not a stiff personality. I didn't have many problems with him at all.

Rinko Kikuchi, who played Mako Mori, also acted well. She was an unassuming lead female role who worked for me. Strong, but also vulnerable for much of the movie, she struck a nice balance. She was the source of, I think, some unnecessary conflict in the movie, but it wasn't her character's fault, more so the writing.

Idris Elba, who played the CO of the Jaeger operation, was perhaps the best actor in the whole movie. A commanding presence who responded reasonably to various situations in the movie. I enjoyed his performance.

Charlie Day, who plays Charlie playing Dr. Newton Geiszler, will perhaps be one of those actors who will never escape his identity in It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. He acts well enough. He's eccentric, a “wild card” so to speak, and doesn't offer too much. I liked him in the movie, but of all the actors and events he took me most out of the movie.

Ron Peralman, a man who is not the one to be messed with, plays the over-the-top Hannibal Chau. Unlike Charlie Day, I feel like Pearlman has enough variety in him to pull off goofy characters while still being identifiable as Ron Pearlman. We go to movies with Ron to see him act like Ron. I think he puts himself into the setting well and I enjoy the rapport he and Charlie Day had. Ron Pearlman, as my brother said, may have been “too much ham” for the Kaiju. He's great to see on screen, though.

Plot: I won't bore you or spoil anything. There are a few aspects of the plot that I enjoyed a great deal.

1) There was no real internal conflict among humans. No countries tried to stab each other in the back. No secret military plots. No stupid motivations. Human beings came together to work toward a common cause. Russians, Chinese, American, and Australians working together in almost-harmony.

2) They didn't force a pointless love story. I think the movie hints at a romance between Mako and Raleigh that grows somewhat naturally. It never gets sexual, it never makes itself the main focus, it's just something in our peripheral. Kudos to the movie for movies away from sex and explosions.

3) No ridiculous pyrotechnics. The fights are cool, having various effects. Explosions happen when they need to, blood flies when it's supposed to fly, but everything done in moderation.

4) The movie strikes a balance between characters personalities and their duty. No ones eccentricities get in their way of their duty or function. They don't ruin plans or get people killed because they go after what they want. The characters, for being so over the top, are actually pretty balanced.

5) Unlike most movies that try to see “both sides of the issue” this movie has a clear villain, a clear goal, and no ambiguity. The monsters are evil, and we must fight them. All without referencing Hitler, which is more than I can say for the Avengers.

A few complaints:

1) The conflict at the beginning seems a bit manufactured. The world's leaders are disappointed in the Jaeger project and fund a crappy wall. The plot point gets dropped pretty quickly. Seemed like manufactured conflict to me.

2) It seems like the pilots weren't always prepared for things that they should have been prepared for (on their end).

3) The music, while fitting and unobtrusive, isn't really memorable.

4) While there is some tension, it's never really the edge-of-your-seat tense.

5) You may find the ending to be a bit rushed.

Final Remarks:

For a 2+ hour movie, it never seemed to overstay it's welcome. Characters were each given adequate screen time and development. There was only one scene where I felt like it dragged on, and it was only 3 minutes or so. We never get to see much from the Russians or Chinese, which is a shame, but they were cool.

The movie is cartoony enough to make you laugh a few times, serious enough keep you cheering for our heroes. The movie is a “spectacle movie” where you get to see big robots fight big monsters. The movie never forgets that premise. It's a well-balanced movie. It combines good acting with enjoyable action. It mixes childish fantasy (like when you would crash toys together) with adult attention. It rejoices in large battles and the human spirit.

Guillermo Del Torro delivers another interesting movie wherein I can't find enough flaws to detract from its merits. I hope a sequel comes out someday. It's disturbing to see Grown Ups 2 somehow pull more in. Your money is better spent here.

Verdict: ***
Three nostalgic robots out of four. I also understand Megatron isn't a hero.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Early Church III-1: Introduction to Christology

Enjoy learning about the early Church? See parts I here and II here.


The study of the person, actions, and significance of Christ can be a daunting task. The number of opinions out there about Him, whether one believes or not, are so numerous it seems as if there could never be a consensus on who Jesus actually was or what He actually did. This problem is not a new one, however, but a very ancient one. We see that even when Jesus performed His earthly ministries many were unsure as to His true identity. When Jesus asked his Apostles who others said the Son of Man was they told him, “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the other prophets” (Mt 16:14). When Jesus addressed them, those who had witnessed him firsthand, Peter took charge and said, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

Our difficulty is twofold at this point. First, Jesus claims that “flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father” (16:17). Knowledge of Christ is ultimately subject to revelation, experience, and grace. Secondly, when Peter got it right he showed us how we can still get it wrong.

Peter spoke truly and in the Spirit, but when he heard Jesus say that He must suffer and die at the hands of wicked men Peter was taken aback. He rebuked Jesus—how could the Messiah suffer? How could God Himself die? Jesus called Peter 'Satan' because he is acting as a deceiver. Recall Genesis in this instance, where the serpent says “You certainly will not die!” (Gen 3:4).

Peter only understood so much, as we might expect. Christ's mission was not yet complete. He had not yet suffered, died, risen, and ascended to the Father. In the Gospel of Mark, for example, no man declares that Jesus is the Son of God until he dies on the cross. Even if we come to believe in these things they still remain a great mystery. We may ask “why did Christ have to do it this way?” but it stands that this was the manner God chose to redeem us. There is always something that can be revealed about a person and his intentions when  he has a number of means and options open to him. That he chooses a specific way can teach us if we endeavor to accept it.

Much like the Trinity, the person of Christ is a mystery of the highest kind. The depths of God's love, mercy, power, and person all remain unplumbed. It takes time to rest in these mysteries and allow them to reveal their hidden truths to us. Much like Scripture, these mysteries are present to us in all of our emotions, affections, and states of being. They are ever-ready to reveal something new to us if we are willing to listen to them and trust in them. As Peter himself shows, sometimes that's difficult. One who experiences loss may find it difficult to believe God loves—but what if they were to believe this despite their loss? What would they learn of God's love? What would they understand from their loss?

We may not gain understanding of these things by our efforts—only the Holy Spirit can give us this—but we grow in wisdom by being with Wisdom. Wisdom is, after all, “the spotless mirror of the power of God, the image of his goodness” (Wis 7:26). Proverbs says it more directly: “The beginning of wisdom is: get wisdom; at the cost of all you have get understanding” (Prv 4:7). In order to understand, become wise, to know and be with Christ we must desire it. Christ says “follow me” and we decide to follow. Love compels us to follow, wisdom keeps us safe as we travel. Another way of looking at it is this: wisdom is the benefit, the reward, of love.

We learn from the imperfections He subjected Himself to for our sake. We learn that it's okay to be imperfect.

The purpose of the following is meant to be an introduction and in no way an academic analysis. I have purposefully kept this examination in the early Church in order to show the ambiguity and struggle that many holy men experienced. In the early 300s more articulate language developed in response to honest dialogue as well as heresy. The same is true of the Trinity.

In both cases, while I will focus on the subject at hand, I would like all who read to consider the collaboration, faith, and wisdom of the many bishops, theologians, and saints who made our present-day expression of faith possible. These were men who willingly walked into the darkness of many mysteries and avoided the guile of reducing such things to human and earthly terms. They deflected ideas which rejected the apostolic teaching or those claims which contradicted Scriptures—they were truly masters of both. Let us, in a small way, sit at their feet in order to correct and safeguard our own ways of thinking.

(See III-2 here!