Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Fear of the Lord

In the two Psalms and the Canticle of Morning Prayer today (Wednesday of Week 1) there is the theme of "the fear of the Lord." This is a prominent theme in the OT, but not absent in the New (the Hebrews writer says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and then later warns: our God is a consuming fire).

I do not hear this in contemporary Christian proclamation. Of course God is love, but "love" has its very definition in God. When we try to fit God's love into our self-centered and sentimental expectations we distort God and set ourselves up for disillusionment and denial.

Jesus shows us the love of God. Yes, out of love He died for our sins.... but at the same time His very death shows us how God responds to sin. And so, from today's readings:

Sin speaks to the sinner in the depths of his heart.
There is no fear of God before his eyes. (Psa 36)

For the Lord, the Most High, we must fear,
great king over the earth. (Psa 47)

But to those who fear you,
you are very merciful. (Judith 16)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Great Quote

My friend Russ Rentler over on Crossed the Tiber gave this great quote from G. K. Chesterton:

"I don't want to go to a church that changes with the culture. I want a Church that changes the culture."

Christians and (the right) Church

When I talk or write about my move to the Catholic Church, some non-Catholics think I'm saying they cannot be good Christians without being Catholic. Not so! But those who see fullness in Catholicism cannot act as if they do not. I came to faith and followed Jesus for almost 50 years in my former ecclesial context.

I recently had a written exchange with a dear Christian from my former congregation who seems to be following Jesus with a whole heart (I say "seems" because we look at outward evidence, not a person's heart). I thought it might be helpful to share part of my response....

The Lord does not leave us where we are - ever, as long as we are in this world; we are always called to be growing into His fullness. I have come to believe that is only possible within the Catholic Church.

That is not to say I believe that Catholicism, as modeled, is perfect nor even always right. It is not to say that those outside the CC are not following Jesus with whole hearts (just not whole minds, which none of us have alone).

Sometimes I think: "What if all Christians "merely" lived up to what they know? (!!) It is not so much new/more teaching we need; we need passionate leaders who help us feel impoverished if we aren't giving the Lord EVERYTHING... EVERYDAY.

Seek to do that where you are, and let the Lord lead you to the next step.... always.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Transcendence and Worship

There have been three distinct places which, for me, have provided a sense of entering some kind of dimensional warp in which my familiar day-to-day world recedes and I enter, instead, into a realm that seems “beyond” –– almost like stepping into the Wardrobe that transports one into Narnia.

Two have been the properties and homes of friends. Both are accessed by driving a wooded lane to arrive at houses built in the late 1700s and which are so secluded from anything else that it seems, given the setting and architecture, I leave the pace and troubles of modernity. I’m not sure what it would be like actually to live in such a setting, but as an occasional visitor I find a magic that takes me “out of this world.” The third is also a property: a private cabin in the mountains also accessed by a long wooded lane. It does have electricity, but is too remote for a cell phone signal. I do not know if there is radio or TV reception as neither intruders are in the cabin. I can sit in a corner of the main room and look out on a rippling stream and look up at the ridge-top of the mountain that rises on the far side of a “run” which is fed by the little stream.

I have spent more time at the cabin (after all, the first two places are others’ homes), yet all give me a common feeling of transcendence; it is truly as if I have left this world behind. I look forward to those times. They feed something in my soul, and I need the renewal of spirit places like that offer me.

Several seemingly unconnected –– and quite mundane –– events in my life have converged recently that have brought these thoughts into focus. The first was a Facebook entry by one of my friends. He gave a short and general description of a church he had recently attended: its ministry focus was outdoor-hunter people. The gathering space was “decorated” with targets, and if I understood correctly, had an in-door archery range over to the side. Now remember, this is a “church.”

The next weekend my wife and I were at a beach resort and we visited the local Catholic parish. As we entered and took our seats there was much that was familiar (Catholic worship starts with remembering one’s baptism and reverence –– or it’s supposed to). At the same time I was acutely aware of how counter-cultural Catholic worship really is. Having spent the weekend on a beach and with the report of the congregation decorated with targets in my mind, it was clear to me that when I entered the sanctuary of that Catholic parish I had “left the world behind” –– a feeling somewhat like that of the wooded lanes, yet more so and different because the context is spiritual rather than merely physical.

Another event triggering my thoughts was Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain. In a Q&A session Benedict was asked, “Can anything be done to make the Church as an institution, more credible and attractive to everyone?” His answer is wonderful:

I would say that a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path, because the Church does not work for her own ends, she does not work to increase numbers and thus power. The Church is at the service of another: she serves, not for herself, not to be a strong body, rather she serves to make the proclamation of Jesus Christ accessible, the great truths and great forces of love, reconciling love that appeared in this figure and that always comes from the presence of Jesus Christ. In this regard, the Church does not seek to be attractive in and of herself, but must be transparent for Jesus Christ and to the extent that she is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power, but is simply the voice of another, she becomes truly transparent for the great figure of Christ and the great truth that he has brought to humanity. The power of love, in this moment one listens, one accepts. The Church should not consider herself, but help to consider the other and she herself must see and speak of the other.

He is so forthright: a Church that seeks to be particularly attractive is already on the wrong path and again, the Church is not out for herself, as a strong and powerful body in the world, that wants power.

When Christians try to attract the world on the basis of what appeals to the world –– power, wealth, entertainment, ease, convenience, comfort –– how does the message of the cross become relevant? [The (heretical) answer is that salvation is reduced to forgiveness; it is implied (or boldly stated) that Jesus suffered so we won’t have to.] When Paul went out to evangelize the unbelieving world he used “the foolishness of preaching” and his message was Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1Cor 1:23). The popular strategy today is to remove all stumbling blocks and appeal to a “wisdom” the world understands. Jesus said one thing would convince the world: ....that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.... (Jn 13:34,35). But it’s too hard to love like Jesus; it means suffering. It means being rejected and hated by the world (see John 15:18–21). So we find easier ways to “witness” –– we distort the gospel to mean that grace is cheap (at least for the recipient), and on the basis of “anything goes” we turn worship into self indulgence.

I find it refreshing that historic Christian worship takes one “out of this world.” Worship is supposed to take us to heaven, even as we give ourselves again and again to the mystery that heaven comes to earth each time we celebrate the Eucharist.

One of the blogs I read rather regularly had this in a recent post:

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hates. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh. If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world, as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church which is accused of being behind the times, as Our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth. Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because he called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which amid the confusion of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly, it is other-worldly. Since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself.…”

I know there are things one can criticize in the Catholic Church –– people who do not model what the Church teaches. That is not true Catholicism. Catholic Faith is both rooted in this world (it is Incarnational) and it is other-worldly. There is a fullness of truth in Catholicism I have found nowhere else.

When I go to worship I do not want a mirror reflection of my culture; I want to be taken back to the Upper Room and the Cross; I want to look, with John the Revelator, into heaven and see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as a multitude sings “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”

When I worship, I want my spirit to be transported into those transcendent and yet historical verities as I wait for the Day when I will be transformed into the full image of my Lord.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Church!

Here is how St Justin Martyr described Christian worship in 155 A.D – only a half century after the death of the Apostle John (and the Church did not fall from the truth in 50 years!)....

The Church?

I've been "out" for too long... I am working on a longer post, but I'll prime the pump by giving this link which pretty well describes what is happening in much of the evangelical-protestant world of "church" (at least on the popular scene).

How did Paul and the other apostles evangelize the Roman Empire without electric music, power point and a light show? What has happened to "the weakness of preaching?" What has happened to Christian worship leading up to and culminating in the Eucharist? As the "church" tries to win the world by being like the world, the world is corrupting what popularly passes for "the church."

More later.....

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