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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Whether "Cliques" are Opposed to Christian Charity

I think this is an especially relative question... should devout Christians belong to a group, in an exclusive nature, and decline interaction with "lesser" or non-believers?  This question is raised constantly in Christian circles, especially among teens and young adults, and on college campuses.  Should we ignore those who could lead us to sin or who aren't as holy as we... or should we invite all manner of sinners into our midst in an attempt for conversion?  What's more Charitable?  Most would say that exclusiveness is not loving, and that would should welcome every type of person into our groups to best love them.  Let's examine the question further.

For the purpose of this post, the definition of clique will be, an exclusive group of people with shared interests who spend time together.

Now let me say this first, group-forming and cliques are part of the psyche from the human condition.  Because we have an innate need to belong, we naturally form groups to fulfill that need, and thus we form "out-groups" to distinguish what we "are not".  However, just because we have a disposition to something does not mean its automatically alright.

Now for the issue at hand--as Christians, can we form exclusive groups and still be charitable?  Well first, lets look at what Charity is.  

Another word for Charity is love, we know that God is love, and that Jesus told us to not only love God with all our being, but also to love our neighbors as ourselves.  Aquinas states that love is "benevolence", or willing the good of the other person.  Basically this means that to love another person we must want them to be with God, to love ourselves we must wish to get to heaven, and to love God we must want to do his will.

Now we know we must love God with all our being, so it is him that we should love first and foremost.  We then must love ourselves, and then others, for we cannot give what we do not have, and so to be charitable to others we must abide in charity to ourselves.  This, above all, means avoiding sin, for it is in sin that we are separated from God and reject His Charity.  In avoiding sin, we must also be careful not to allow others to lead us to sin, but also must not condone or support the sinful lives of others.  If we are to love our neighbor, we must be his keeper.

Further, each person as a varying degree of strength in God, some are strong and others are week, and each person has particular areas of sin that we fall into habitually.  If we are expected to help others we must be strong and not fall into sin ourselves, and thus if a person is going to lead you to sin, how can you help them? Yes, Jesus ate with sinners, but in his perfection he need not worry about falling into the sinful acts of those he fell around, nor did he partake in sinful acts as a means for their conversion.

So here it is... it is from this knowledge that I conclude that certain Christian Cliques are not actually (inherently) contrary to Christian Charity, but rather may help to guard it.  Sadly there are some people who, for our own well being, we just shouldn't associate with.  If someone will lead you to sin, away from God and His charity, you will no be able love them fully while living in that sin, and so to preserve the love for yourself and the love of God, you can "love them from a distance" ie, pray for their conversion and happiness.  But the will of God and your purity must come first.

Now, some people are strong in faith or have a particular resistance to certain vices.  If this is the case than you should prudently discern if you are called to evangelize to a group or person in that they may be converted.  You should only do this if you are strong enough to resist this sin.

Finally, Cliques can be misused.  When used as a means of judgment or self-edification they not only hinder charity on all three accounts, but damage the charity of others as they grow contempt for the Church.  If an individual is in need of guidance and fellowship, and your "clique" is solid enough to encourage them in that way without falling itself, the charitable thing to do is to invite them into your group.

Consider the groups you are part of, why you are part of them, and if they are exclusive to the detriment or support of Christian Charity.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Reflections on the Historical Jesus

Recently, I was asked a question about my thoughts on the "Historical Jesus"... ie searching for those words and acts that Christ ACTUALLY said and did.  I'll admit that, at the time the question was asked, I had had very little exposure to what the Historical Jesus actually was.  Basically, I lumped every analysis of the "Real Christ" as falling under John Dominic Crossan's "Quest for the Historical Jesus" and the subsequent "Jesus Seminar".  For the record, even after brief subsequent study on the historical Jesus, I still think the work of Crossan and the Jesus seminar is inspired by Satan... but more on that later.

For my Eucharist class I was required to read an article (The Eucharist at the Last Supper: Did it really happen? Theology Digest 42:4, Winter 1995) by Roman Catholic Historical Jesus scholar John Meier. I'll admit, Meier has begun to change my view on Historical Jesus, and has shown me the value the paradigm has in answering certain theological questions and gaining a deeper understanding and love for the person of Christ and Sacred Scripture.

Meier starts off by saying that, while his book A Marginal Jew is often "yoked" with the Jesus seminar, he nevertheless disagrees with Crossan on key issues of Catholicism, for instance... whether or not the Last Supper actually happened.  Meier also points out the value of knowing the historical Jesus in reaction to fundamentalist's literal readings.

Without giving away the whole article, or just quoting applicable one-liners from Meier, I'll just give you my general assessment:

Theology is faith seeking understanding, and faith is also rooted in the intellect, which requires some element of reason to truly assent to God.  It is for this reason that the Church has always upheld faith AND reason as essential to true belief in God.  While different believers are responsible for various levels of understanding concerning faith, it is important for theologians, teachers, and priests to have a deep wisdom and understanding of theological knowledge in order to defend the Truth and help uphold the faith of others.

The Historical Jesus, and historical criticism in general, when applied correctly, in respect to tradition, right reason and intent, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can be a wonderful tool and paradigm in gaining a deeper understanding of the Gospel and the doctrines of our faith.  It is for example, in learning the formula that Christ used during the last supper we can begin to see, as Meier says that,

"...what the hallowed bread and wine first of all mediate or communicate is not a static thing but a dynamic reality, the whole saving event of Jesus' death and ultimate vindication" (350).

It is through such study that we begin to see our doctrines in new and beautiful ways, as they were handed to us by Christ himself.

However, this paradigm is not for everyone, for those who are not firm in their faith, sound of reason, or guided by the Holy Spirit, may fall into serious and grave error such as that of the Jesus Seminar who has concluded that, "Jesus was a mortal man born of two human parents, who did not perform nature miracles nor die as a substitute for sinners nor rise bodily from the dead.[3][4][5] Sightings of a risen Jesus were nothing more than the visionary experiences of some of his disciples rather than physical encounters.[3][4][5]"   I'll let you figure out exactly that is not in accord with the core of Christian belief.

So, when we aim to de-mythologize and legalize the words of Christ, we can fall into serious error.  But for those of us who approach this aspect of historical criticism with the intent of greater understanding and in respect to already established doctrines of the Church, we can come to a deeper faith.

So my brethren, happy (and appropriate) "Questing".

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Divine Mercy, Divine Justice

I want to reflect briefly on the Gospel reading for today.  You can read it here, or just open your Bible to Mathew 18:21-35.

First, I want to look at the exchange between Jesus and the Apostle Peter.  Peter, asking the Lord how many times he should forgive his neighbor, suggests an answer to his own question--7 times.  Now, Peter thought he was pretty hot stuff here, because according to Jewish law you only had to forgive your neighbor 3 times before seeking justice.  Not only did Peter double that number, but he added one--clearly he went above and beyond the requirements of the Law.  However, Jesus responds that he must forgive his neighbor 77 times.  In Bible-speak that basically translates to an "inconceivable amount".  No Jew of their time would ever have fathomed forgiving a neighbor that many times.  This is the incredible challenge that Christ gives us, to forgive unceasingly.  God does this as well, although he also deal out Divine Justice as well... but only per our choice.

The second half of the Gospel is the parable Christ tells to illustrate the need for human forgiveness, the gift of Divine mercy, and manifestation of Divine Justice.  Interpreting from the allegorical sense, the Master in the parable is God, who despite us being unworthy and completely unable to pay our debt to him, forgave us our debts and allows us to live with him.  Because God has forgiven us, we must also forgive our brethren.  When we are "trespassed against", we must show mercy and forgive those have hurt us.  Why? Because when we fail to live in the light and example of God's mercy, we are choosing rather to live in His justice--and what is the justice of non-forgiving? Being unforgiven.  This is what results in Hell (or in the case of the parable, torture).

I think it especially providential that these readings occurred on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11.  I'm going to go out on a limb here and say--God wants us to forgive the men who did this and who continue to do such things.  Should we wish Hell on these men, and on Osama Bin Laden?  No, for that is not love.  Instead we should forgive them, choose to move on and not let it control our lives, and even radically pray for their conversion and entrance into heaven.  It's a hard message to hear, many wounds are still open or never actually healed properly, but I urge you, if you want to receive God's mercy you must give mercy yourself... and if you can do it with Sept 11, you can pretty much do it with anything.

May you find love and mercy in your heart.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On "Heaven is for Real"

When I was working Totus Tuus this summer, teaching Catechism and immersed in Catholic culture, I heard about a fad that was sweeping through the faithful.  The book Heaven is for Real is a "true" story about a 4 year old boy who, while undergoing emergency surgery for a ruptured appendix, visited heaven.  The book was written a number of years later by his father, a Wesleyan Pastor at a relatively small rural Nevada church. Throughout the second half of the book, Pastor Todd, through humorous and inspiring anecdotes, explains some of the things his son saw in heaven.

Here's the thing--this book IS spiritually inspiring, above all its a testimony of strength, perseverance, and hope through suffering.

The book would also qualify as personal revelation which has not been approved and even if it has been we can choose not believe:

“Throughout the ages, there have been so-called ‘private’ revelations, some of which have been recognized by the authority of the Church. They do not belong, however, to the deposit of faith. It is not their role to improve or complete Christ's definitive Revelation, but to help live more fully by it in a certain period of history. Guided by the Magisterium of the Church, the sensus fidelium knows how to discern and welcome in these revelations whatever constitutes an authentic call of Christ or his saints to the Church. Christian faith cannot accept ‘revelations’ that claim to surpass or correct the Revelation of which Christ is the fulfillment, as is the case in certain non-Christian religions and also in certain recent sects which base themselves on such ‘revelations’” (CCC # 67).

However, I don't believe that this simple little book will ever be approved by Church.  Why?  Because 1) the source is not credible... the visions were by a young boy who hardly even knows how to communicate what he saw, and then were written down, many years later, by his Protestant father who could have interpreted his son's words in ways that fit his belief.

Secondly, some things are directly against Catholic doctrine or dogma, specifically that the young boy says that Jesus told him those in Hell will not have resurrected bodies--a notion which contradicts centuries of Catholic doctrine ("For an hour is coming in which all those in their tombs shall hear His voice and come forth. Those who have done right shall rise to live; the evildoers shall rise to be damned" (Jn 5:28-29)).

To my Catholic brethren--it is OK to read this book, it has some emotionally and spiritually moving sections that, for the right person, could enrich their spiritual life.  However, to all who read this I must urge prudence and deliberation in choosing which elements of the revelation to believe.  Educate yourself before reading this, disregard the parts that are contrary to established Catholic teaching, and, if by chance you are prone to being led astray, just stay away from the book.  There are other books you can read for the same effect that are more solid.