Sunday, January 28, 2018

How can you remain Catholic? part 2

Letter to Moses “Mo” Derniste
continued: “Why I remain a Catholic”
 Why am I a Catholic? I am a Catholic because God made the world in seven days. I can hear you saying, “Is this loon a medievalist who also believes in a flat earth?” No, friend, I believe the world is round, or actually it bulges at the equator making it a bit pear-shaped as are many of its inhabitants. It is technically an oblate spheroid. So all you round earthers are actually WRONG. (This according to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.)
“Well,” I can hear you retort, “Isn’t the universe actually 14 billion years old? Wasn’t that proven by those young scientists on that sitcom on the TV? How can you believe that the world was made in seven days?”
Let me tell you the story of the five blind men who went to see an elephant. A circus came to town and five friends who were totally blind went to see the elephant. Upon arriving, one of them walked smack dab into the side of the elephant and exclaimed, “Why, an elephant is like a great rough wall!” Another, grabbing the trunk of the elephant, said, “Nonsense! An elephant is like a firehose.” The third embracing the leg of the mighty beast said, You are both wrong! An elephant is like the trunk of a tree.” Another, grabbing the ear of this patient creature said, “No, clearly an elephant is like the leaf of a large tropical plant.” The fifth, at that end of the elephant incapable of facial expression opined that the elephant was like a rope. You, standing at a distance and seeing the whole, know that an elephant is like nothing so much as an elephant!
So it is with heaven. We see elements and theories and parts and all rightly so, but God, looking at His universe, sees the number SEVEN. The number seven is the most important part of the story. In Hebrew the number seven is “shevah”. It is spelled exactly the same way as the word “seven”. In effect you don’t swear that something is true. In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, you “seven” that something is true.  God is the same yesterday today and tomorrow, and for Him, “…one day is like a thousand years.” (2 Peter 3:8) He sees the universe as a thing of seven days. This means that creation itself is His oath of faithfulness and love. I believe that creation itself is all about covenants. We sinners are all about contracts.
A contract is a temporary relationship between people. I will give you this money or that thing in exchange for goods and services rendered by you. When the business is over we will say goodbye. I give to you that you may give to me. 
A covenant is quite different, though it has contractual elements within it. A covenant says that I give you myself that you may give me yourself. Since the self has been forsworn, I cannot take it back or give it elsewhere. An example: Physical intimacy is the subject of both marriage and other relationships. Marriage is highly esteemed because it is a covenant. Those other intimate physical relationships are contractual and are not highly esteemed. Politicians in particular don’t want to be caught in these kinds of relationships. Marriage is permanent. To make it temporary is to make it, well you know what they call temporary intimacy.
Our civilization is built on covenants. Judaism and Christianity believe that Heaven has made a covenant with us, though the third monotheistic religion does not believe this. They hold that the god they worship would never stoop to make covenants with mere creatures, and so they do not hold covenants in the same esteem that Judaeo-Christian civilization does. Catholicism is built on covenants. The very word sacrament is a Latin word that means oath to the death.
Every time we go to Communion we are swearing most solemnly to live for Christ and, if need be, to die for Christ and His Bride the Church. The mother of St. Louis of France famously said to her son on the day of his First Communion that she would rather he die than ever commit a mortal sin. When we bring our children for Baptism or Confirmation or Holy Eucharist, we are actually swearing to the same thing. It isn’t just a rite of passage followed by a swell party. In Holy Orders and Holy Matrimony we pledge to remain in a certain relationship until death do us part. It is impossible to get unbaptized, unconfirmed, unmarried or unordained. Even the sacrament of Penance demands a firm resolve never to sin again, God’s grace prevailing. Even in the Anointing of the sick we unconditionally place ourselves in God’s hands.
So it is that we Catholics regulate our lives by these seven covenants, an oath of oaths, a seven of sevens, understanding that Heaven wants to belongs to us and wants us to belong to Heaven. I am a Catholic because the Catholic Church is that original covenant Church, despite the fact that people are currently trying to redefine the most basic covenant of marriage and family. I don’t think they will prevail, because God Almighty is all about covenants, not about one night stands.
Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, January 21, 2018

In these enlightened times, how can you remain Catholic?

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
In these progressive and enlightened times, how is that you can remain a Catholic? If you insist on being a Christian, there are lot of other more contemporary forms of Christianity. Catholicism with its mystifying rituals and its current chaos just doesn’t seem worth the effort anymore.
Moses “Mo” Derniste

Dear “Mo”,
It is true that there are least twenty thousand various flavors of Christianity from which to choose. I actually was confronted in my youth in the Pentecostal Movement by those who demanded that I leave the Catholic Church lest I lose my salvation. I had to consider Catholicism seriously when most young men were trying to figure out which frat party to attend, though I did manage to combine both tasks. I prayed over it for months and that small voice inside, my conscience, I suppose, told me to stick with the Catholic Church. It has been, and continues to be, quite a wild ride. 
My experience of the Catholic Church over the past fifty years has been a little like a long plane ride that has hit some turbulence. One waits and waits for the captain to turn off the fasten seat belt sign, but the turbulence just gets worse. One knows that turbulence is not really a serious issue. Planes are designed to withstand turbulence, but at the same time, one swears that he will drive to his next destination. I must be crazy. I keep getting back on the plane and belting myself in. Why? It seems to be the best way to get to my destination, despite the turbulence. I suppose that I agree with an Anglican priest who entered the Catholic Church and was then ordained a Catholic priest. He was asked by a lifelong Catholic how he liked the Catholic Church. He said, to the shock of his questioner, “I don’t particularly like the Catholic Church. Had I wanted to be in a church I liked, I would have remained Anglican. I didn’t join the Catholic Church because I like it. I joined it because it’s true.”  I suppose I think it’s true and I even like it, that is when it’s not being re-invented by people who don’t like it. 
I remember my seminary days when my teachers regularly updated us on the latest in theology, pointing how unenlightened everyone had been until they arrived. They then would leave the priesthood. I remember in particular a radical priest professor who, with a friend of his, a nun, regaled us with a dramatic reading of the Song of Songs, something about goats and pomegranates. At the end of the semester, he and sister became missus and mister. They both continued working in the business of religion. I suppose it is small of me to resent the fact, but they seemed to so dislike the Church of two thousand years and were so anxious to reinvent it, that one thinks they would not have continued to earn their living from it. It seems parasitic.  I think I can sum up with the chorus of a song, “Sing a New Church”:
Let us bring the gifts that differ
and, in splendid, varied ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise.
Why bother to sing a new church into being. There are lots of really nice new churches. Since around 1525, people have been inventing really swell new churches. The mega-churches are currently popular, though I hear that they are getting a little bit old, and their popularity seems to be waning. So why do we need a new church that obliterates the old one? I suppose that we have to sing a new church into being, “one in faith and love and praise” because the old one apparently had no love or faith or praise. At least that is what the new church inventors must think. I guess I am not really in step with the spirit of the times. I am quietly humming to myself “Faith of our Fathers, livings still, I will be true to thee ‘til death.”  (Sorry for the word “Father”. Perhaps I should have said “parents”. Actually, someone with whom I served on a university faculty redeemed that song by adding a politically corrective verse, “Faith of our mothers oppressed and miserable”, or some such words.)
So here I am clinging to some outmoded medieval, gothic, dusty, irrelevant, homophobic, anti-woman faith, even whose leadership seems to think needs to be redecorated in Danish modern. Why?
Reason one: the “Our” in the Our Father. When I came home from college for my first summer break, I had been recently baptized in the spirit and was full of evangelical fervor. I announced to my parents that they, too, could have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and savior. They congratulated me on finally understanding what they had taught me all my life. The Christ with whom I had been brought up was intensely personal. I had really known Him all my life in one way or another. My family prayed together, read the bible together, went to Mass together. To see my parents pray was to see a man and woman communing with God. I was taught my whole life that God was somebody, not something, a person, not just an idea. It took me a very long time to realize that my new evangelical Pentecostal friends didn’t really mean a relationship with a person when they said, “personal relationship with Jesus Christ” they mean a private relationship with Jesus Christ as in the old song,
I come to the garden alone
while the dew is still on the roses
and the voice I hear falling on my ear
The son of God discloses.
And he walks with me and he talks with me
and he tells me I am his own
and the joy we share as we tarry there
none other has ever known.
Simply put, He is “Our Father” not my father. Americans and their modern wannabees throughout the world love to think that they are individually infallible. Me and Jesus. Jesus never said, “me and you”. He said us. I have to go to Mass. I have to put up with my irritating co-religionists. They have to put up with irritating me. Other people are not optional. We are a family. He is Our Father. Jesus is our Savior. The Holy Spirit falls afresh on Us.” The family of God stretches back two thousand years and more. It cannot be re-invented. It does not belong exclusively to the revisionists of the twenty first century. It belongs to the ages and to the Lord. That is one reason I am a Catholic.
More next week.
Rev. Know-it-all
PS. The song “Faith of Our Fathers” was written by persecuted Catholics in England and there is a verse that no one sings anymore.
Faith of our Fathers! Mary's prayers
shall win our country back to thee:
and through the truth that comes from God
England shall then indeed be free.
I hope those words also apply to the English colonies.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Some thoughts on the Feast of St. Thomas Becket

I have been the pastor of two parishes which have as their patron saint a bishop who was slaughtered by knights in shining armor. St. Thomas Becket was one such bishop. He was a pliable friend of King Henry II of England. Thomas was in Holy Orders, a deacon I think, so the newly crowned king decided to appoint his old friend Thomas to be the leading bishop of the realm. No sooner than ordained, Thomas started being difficult. He zealously guarded the right of the church to try misbehaving clerics. He thought it a vital principle for guarding freedom of religion. He was hounded out of the country, and when he returned he was killed by a few of the king’s knights, with or without the collusion of the king. No one is quite sure.
St. Lambert has a similar story.  Lambert was a monk of an impeccably aristocratic background. Around 700 AD he was appointed bishop of Maastricht and Liege by Prince Pepin of Herstal. He promptly became less pliable and denounced Pepin’s carrying on with his mistress Alpaida. (You’ve got to love the names) Again, the retainers of Prince Pepin murder Lambert.
 In all of this you must be thinking, doesn’t the pope appoint bishops? Actually, he doesn’t. He usually approves candidates put forward by the local church. Until very recently the local powers had a lot to do with appointing bishops and even popes. Until modern times, the powerful have always interfered with the election of popes. The emperors of Constantinople had to approve the election of the Bishop of Rome by the clergy and people of that city until the 800’s. In 1059, Pope Nicholas II decided that only the pastors of the main churches in Rome (the cardinals) would elect the Bishop of Rome, because the whole thing was getting out of hand, riots, politics and all. The man elected still had to have the approval of the priests and people of Rome.
In 1139, the need for popular approval was dropped and the pastors would elect the pope, the Bishop of Rome. In 1274, it was decided that the cardinals would be locked up (conclave, meaning “with a key” or “lock down”) to reduce the chaos, politics and rioting in the streets. But they couldn’t keep out the powerful completely. Catholic kings had rights of election and claimed a veto over papal elections. Each king had a cardinal, who could apply the royal veto during a papal conclave. The last time the royal veto was us used was in 1903, when Austria opposed the election of Cardinal Rampolla, so the conclave elected Cardinal Sarto who ended up as St. Pope Pius X. Six months later Pius ended the practice.
Governments have always tried to control the elections of popes and bishops because the Gospel of Christ is the only thing more powerful than the state. Governments hate when their subjects have a higher loyalty than the loyalty rendered to the state. So, the power of governments over episcopal and papal appointments ended in 1903? Hardly! Francisco Franco, the Caudillo of Spain claimed the patronato real, the privilege of Spanish kings to name bishops and veto appointments from bishops all the way down to the parish priest. This only ended in 1973. Today the Chinese government claims the same exact privilege. At least this abuse has ended everywhere but China. Don’t count on it. We have a new kind of government. You may think that much of the world has adopted government by the people of the people and for the people. Nonsense!
We are governed by news agencies and talk show hosts. The constant flow of information and opinion that we carry around in our pockets on our no-so-smart phones tells us what to think, of whom to approve and for whom to vote. It tells us how many genders there are and how to define marriage and which children have the right to live and which children and old people should die. This same info-government tells us that priests who defy Catholic tradition regarding marriage and preference are heroic and those who hold to the Gospel preached these two thousand years are narrow-minded, fundamentalists and Pharisees. The yammering classes can hound any bishop or priest out of his pulpit, so we try to combat the whole usurpation of the freedom of the Gospel by beating them at their own game.
And so, somebody at the Vatican has just hire a company called Accenture to design and manage the Holy See's new internet news service. The have asked the fox to completely redesign the hen house. The company in question, Accenture, is famous throughout the world for promoting a political and moral agenda diametrically opposed to Catholic moral teaching. So, the new rulers of the world have just been given a veto power to elect and depose popes and bishops and priests just as governments have always wanted. 
When the Sadducees were asked, “Shall I crucify your king?” they shouted, “We have no king but Caesar.”  I guess we are there in the crowd with them. We have no king but the media. God help us.
Rev. Know-it-all