The Apostolate of the Laity

Waxing philosophical in communion with one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

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Location: Portland, Oregon, United States

I am just a sinner who holds fast to the notion that every human being on the planet is the result of a thought of God.

Friday, January 25, 2008

I Did Not Know Him

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, `After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.' I myself did not know him; but for this I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel."
(John (RSV) 1:29-31)

How did John The Baptist not know Jesus?

Twice in this reading from last Sunday's Gospel John says, “I myself did not know him.” How can that be? After all they were cousins were they not?

During Advent we heard the story of Mary visiting her kinswoman, Elizabeth. The exact relationship of Elizabeth to Mary remains a bit of mystery. She might have been a cousin, or an aunt. No one really knows for sure, and the Greek and Latin words used in Luke 1:36 do not really specify an exact relationship though some translations including the King James Version have taken the liberty to call her a cousin. What we do know is that she was some how related to Mary and that when Blessed Mother approached...John recognized The Christ.

And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb;

(Luke (RSV) 1:41)

That babe, of course, was John. It seems logical that Jesus and John must have known each other growing up, right? Well remember that the Holy Family left the area and went to Bethlehem, where Christ was born, and then escaped to Egypt to avoid Herod’s slaughter of all male children under the age of two. When they returned from Egypt, they settled in Nazareth. Scripture doesn’t tell us where John was, but we do know that eventually John took off to live as a hermit in the desert, and many scholars have him living with the Essenes, that devout sect of Judaism who collected what we now know as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

So when Christ approached him, the way that he knew Our Lord as the Messiah was when he saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove and rest upon Jesus. How interesting to ponder whether John ever knew of his familial relation to Christ. He never addresses Him as his kinsman. Rather John refers to himself as a friend of the bridegroom and even continues to baptize people in the old Jewish tradition after Christ has left him, though he tells his followers that his mission has been fulfilled and the he must decrease while Christ increases.

Perhaps one act of his decreasing came after his arrest when he sent his disciples to Christ:

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" And Jesus answered them, "Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me."
(Matthew (RSV) 11:2-6)

Meditate upon the following:

If you were to see Christ approaching you, what emotions would be stirred? If you looked across the room; across the coffee shop; across the office, wherever you are right now reading this, and there was Christ walking towards you...what do you feel?

A sense of unworthiness?
A desire or need to prostrate yourself?
Absolute joy?
Doubt of the authenticity of the encounter?
Do you do the equivalent of throwing yourself out of the boat and swimming to greet Him as Peter did in the last chapter of John?

Would you even know Christ if you saw Him?

One common characteristic of many of the saints was their ability to see Christ in all those who approached them. One easily finds The Christ in the believer, the friend, the relative, the spouse, the child, and even the poor. Christ can be seen in every human being, even the most ardent non-believer. Carryll Houselander authored a beautiful book titled The Reed of God in which she describes in one chapter the many ways one sees Christ in others. Perhaps most compelling was her referencing that Christ is visible even in the soul of the one who is in mortal sin. In this person the risen Christ is not seen; nor the suffering Christ; nor the healing Christ. For this person what is seen is Christ dead in the tomb.

Does this not depict an icon for the twenty-first century culture? The body of Christ waiting to be resurrected. As annoying as news of Britney Spears can be, is there not a hope that Christ will be resurrected in her heart and she stop her self-destructive behavior? As horrifying as the abortionist who takes a blasé approach to killing can be, does not hope exist that Christ will rise from within him and convert him from the evil that he does? As frightening as the Islamic terrorist might be, does not the hope exist that Christ will ascend from the darkness of his heart and turn him towards the way of truth and life? Christ dead in the tomb describes these characters and many more who are players in this culture of death.

And yet Christ lives. He approaches us and we approach Him. Think again about your response to Our Lord should He walk in your direction. Now consider that most beautiful, perfect moment in your day or week when you approach His body, blood, soul, and divinity...freely and without reservation or fear. That moment you gaze upon Him and exclaim in your heart as Thomas did in awe, "My Lord and my God."

"Behold the lamb of God!" were John's words that the Catholic priest today proclaims as he elevates the consecrated host. John may not have known the man, but he knew The Christ. John didn't know in what person the Messiah would come to him, only that he would indeed come. Is not modern man in the same boat? For one does not know where or in whom Christ will approach one, but it takes only a little faith, a mustard seed-sized amount, to know that one will indeed be approached.

How will you respond to that event?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

What Exactly Do They Protest?

"Therefore let us embrace Christ, who was delivered for us, and His righteousness; but let us regard our righteousness as dung, so that we, having died to sins, may live to God alone"
- Martin Luther [LW 30:294].

One of the key differences between the Church, which Christ gave to humanity, and Protestant philosophy centers around the notion of justification by faith alone. Legend has it that Martin Luther described man as heaps of dung covered by snow, the snow symbolizing the sanctifying grace of Christ. The idea that man remains corrupt, but the efficacy of Christ's grace makes that corruption hidden from view. While such an analogy might be germane to many of Luther's writings, the actual comparison in point of fact appears to be hearsay even if it serves as a good description of the basis of his heresy.

"Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ more strongly, who triumphed over sin, death, and the world; as long as we live here, we must sin."
- Martin Luther letter to Phillip Melancthon, 1521

Certainly Luther was not encouraging folks to go out and sin with abandon, but his teachings reveal the thinking of many protestant believers that conversion is an event more than a life-long journey. A fatalistic approach to sin dominates this philosophy. Sin becomes as banal as beautiful white teeth. One might wish to have a set of pearly whites to brighten the smile, but if a lifetime of coffee and cola has stained the teeth, not to worry, the teeth still work to chew food. In a similar sense, for the once saved always saved believer, sin is simply the coffee stain on the soul and is inconsequential provided one has at some point in one's life accepted Christ as his Savior.

Most non-Catholic Christian faiths hold to this notion of justification by faith alone to one degree or another. Never mind that the only place in sacred scripture where the reference to being saved by faith alone appears to state quite the opposite:

You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.
James 2:24

This sort of throws a monkey wrench into the whole sola scriptura (scripture alone as the source of knowing God) approach to salvation as it puts sacred scripture into the position of contradicting itself. Why would the Divine do that?

Calvin managed to combine antinomianism with a form of legalism and came up with the notion that sacred tradition or any existence of a deposit of faith was meaningless to his abstract arguments on scripture. For the Calvinist, man is so depraved that he cannot unselfishly love God; that God chooses those who will go to heaven and hell regardless of their work upon the earth or even desire to follow Christ, and thus Christ only died for a select few versus all of humanity; that those who are chosen cannot resist His grace even if they willed to do so; and that we can know those who are chosen as they are the ones who persevere to the end of their lives.

Catholics believe that God is love, and it is a love far beyond the understanding of mere human intellect. Christ did not come down to earth and hand out copies of the New Testament and say,

"Read this. Interpret it as you like, and all who claim me as their personal lord and savior will be saved."

For one thing the term "personal lord" appears no where in the Bible. The word personal only appears twice, both times in the Old Testament book of Judith. The term "Lord and Savior" appears only in Second Peter in the New Testament and in each use our first Pope refers to "our Lord and Savior" as a communal title for The Christ, versus an individualistic instrument.

God so loved every human being He has created and will ever create, that He humbled himself to be with us in a form we could understand. He came into the world as a man, divine in nature, yet human in physicality. He came to offer a way home to Heaven after man lost his way in the fallen world gifted to him by his first parents. And He came to show the way to be one with Him, today, not just after one dies, but in the very here and now, even if our beatific vision is trammeled by sin. And he came to die for those very sins that would block our way. It was a death, a sacrifice for all of humanity, not just a select few.

Our Father who art in Heaven does not look upon His creation as piles of dung needing to be covered up. He looks upon humanity as His beloved children in need of His love. A love so ardent that He entrusted the keys to Kingdom not to an angel, not to a cherubim, not to any other of His creations, but rather to a simple fisherman named Simon Bar-Jona.

He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:15-19

"I will build my church."

There can be no other credible interpretation other than that Christ intended to establish one Church upon the Earth. And it wasn't something to be built some day. Jesus clearly identifies who the foundation of His earthly church will be. Additionally He summarily imparts authority to this man from Lake Gennes'aret. Later He gives Peter and the Apostles their marching orders not to go hand out New Testaments, but to bring the Gospel, to live the Gospel, to spread the Gospel to the entire Earth and to teach what He taught them and continue the mystery of the Eucharist established at the Last Supper. It is a mystery founded in the love and service to neighbor.

Sacred scripture was assembled by the early Church, for the Church to use in liturgy. The early Church fathers never intended for the Bible to supplant the sacred tradition handed down directly from the Apostles. They never imagined the Bible to be the soul source of inspiration or to supplant the authority of the Church that Christ gave her. And they certainly would not have seen as credible that a disgruntled German monk could suddenly decide that certain books of the Bible were no longer legitimate.

Christ earnestly desires that the Church be one with Him. That's not conjecture. It's directly from scripture. Let all Catholics pray for the conversion of the separated brothers and sisters whom are united with His Church in baptism, but due to a lack of clear understanding or willful misdirection, have chosen a path outside of full communion.