May we be among those who lament

A loud voice rang in my ears: ‘Here they come, those appointed to punish the city, each carrying his weapon of destruction.’ I saw six men approaching from the road that leads to the upper gate which faces north, each carrying a battle-club, and among them one was dressed in linen, with a writer’s pen and ink at his waist; they advanced until they stood by the bronze altar. The glory of the God of Israel had risen from above the cherubim where it rested, and had come to the terrace of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen, with pen and ink at his waist. ‘Go through the city of Jerusalem,’ said the LORD, ‘and mark with a cross the foreheads of those who groan and lament over all the abominations practised there.’ To the others I heard him say, ‘Follow him through the city and deal out death; show no pity; spare no one. Kill and destroy men old and young, girls, little children, and women, but touch no one who bears the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders in front of the temple. ‘Defile the temple,’ he said, ‘and fill the courts with dead bodies; then go out and spread death in the city.’

While the killing went on, I was left alone, and I threw myself on the ground, crying out, ‘Lord GOD, are you going to destroy all the Israelites who are left, in this outpouring of your anger on Jerusalem?’ He answered, ‘The iniquity of Israel and Judah is very great indeed; the land is full of bloodshed, the city is filled with injustice. They are saying, “The LORD has forsaken the land and does not see.” But I shall show no pity, nor spare them; I shall make their conduct recoil on their own heads.’ When the man dressed in linen, with pen and ink at his waist, returned he reported: ‘I have carried out your orders.’

Ezekiel 9.

I just thought it was a marvelous bit of writing.

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In defense of idolatry

I heard a homily during morning Mass last Saturday, which a lot of us have probably heard. The first reading was from Isaiah chapter 48, which deals with idolatry. The deacon made the point that the condemnation of idolatry still applies to us today, because we make idols of things whenever we place them above God. Our idols today may be money or possessions or pride or sex, but they’re still idols.

But wait a minute. Didn’t they have money and possessions and pride and sex in Isaiah’s day? Are those really what was being condemned when God said that he was a jealous God?

When Isaiah prophesies, “Things of the past I declared long ago, they went forth from my mouth, I announced them; then suddenly I took action and they came to be….  before they took place I informed you, that you might not say, ‘My idol did them, my statue, my molten image commanded them’” (Is. 48:3, 5) — can that, by any stretch, really be referring to money or sex?

The nub of the sin of idolatry was worshipping false gods. And “worshipping” them consisted primarily of offering sacrifice. Thus the commandment was, “Do not offer sacrifice to false gods, for I am jealous! Sacrifice to me alone!”

It seems to me that idolatry is pretty well dead nowadays. You’re hard pressed to find people who offer sacrifice at all (Catholics and other Christians possessing the priesthood and the Mass being the exception), let alone offer it to false gods. Perhaps Satanists fall into this category?

Of course I’m speaking of the United States. I’m sure there are places in which sacrifice is still offered to false gods. But in the average modern American Catholic parish, I would say that the temptation to idolatry is not a major issue.

But this isn’t to say that scripture readings condemning idolatry have no interest or relevance to modern American Catholics. It’s important to remember that God is a jealous god, and to hear the thundering condemnations of the infidelity of the Israelites in consorting with other gods, even going so far as to call the Israelites whores and adulterers. God will be worshipped and will have no rivals. You cannot claim membership in his covenant, cannot claim to belong to his covenant Bride, while chasing after other divinities. On this he never budged an inch. He forgave when his Bride had suffered long enough and begged, in sackcloth and ashes, to be received back in his favor. But he never tolerated idolatry as a legitimate alternative to the worship prescribed under the Law.

We do indeed need to hear nowadays, that there are some sins that God does not tolerate, not even a little bit, and that those who commit them, and remain unrepentant, have no place in his Kingdom.

The fruits of liberal theology

Even the stork in the heavens knows its times;
and the turtledove, swallow, and crane observe the time of their coming;
but my people do not know the ordinance of the LORD.
How can you say, “We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us,”
when, in fact, the false pen of the scribes has made it into a lie?
The wise shall be put to shame, they shall be dismayed and taken;
since they have rejected the word of the LORD, what wisdom is in them?

Jeremiah 8:7-9.

Don’t forget to repent!

I realized recently that a big hole in the liberal Christian conception of the Gospel concerns the need for repentance. They imagine there is no such need. When I made the statement, which I took to be non-controversial, that Jesus dined with sinners for the purpose of bringing them to repentance, someone went so far as to say that I was preaching some other Gospel than the one he believed in.

I would love to write a long dissertation on the concept of repentance and its place in the Gospel, but alas time is scarce. So I thought I would just toss something off whenever I come across something that’s apropos.

In my daily Bible reading I came across the following:

The foreigner who has given his allegiance to the LORD must not say,
‘The LORD will exclude me from his people.’
The eunuch must not say,
‘I am naught but a barren tree.’
These are the words of the LORD:
The eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose to do my will
and hold fast to my covenant,
will receive from me something better than sons and daughters,
a memorial and a name in my own house and within my walls;
I shall give them everlasting renown,
an imperishable name.

So too with the foreigners who give their allegiance to me,
to minister to me and love my name
and become my servants,
all who keep the sabbath unprofaned
and hold fast to my covenant:
these I shall bring to my holy hill
and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their offerings and sacrifices
will be acceptable on my altar;
for my house will be called
a house of prayer for all nations.

Isaiah 56:3-7.

Those who will receive joy on the Lord’s holy hill, are those who do his will, keep the sabbath and hold fast to his covenant.

“Cry loudly, do not hold back;
Raise your voice like a trumpet,
And declare to My people their transgression
And to the house of Jacob their sins.
“Yet they seek Me day by day and delight to know My ways,
As a nation that has done righteousness
And has not forsaken the ordinance of their God.
They ask Me for just decisions,
They delight in the nearness of God.
‘Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not [a]notice?’
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers.

“If because of the sabbath, you turn your foot
From doing your own pleasure on My holy day,
And call the sabbath a delight, the holy day of the Lord honorable,
And honor it, desisting from your own ways,
From seeking your own pleasure
And speaking your own word,
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
And I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
And I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

Isaiah 58:1-3, 13-14.

First they ask, Why does the Lord not hear us? And his answer: Because you seek your own pleasure rather than doing what I command. If you desist from seeking your own pleasure and speaking your own word on my holy sabbath, then you will enjoy the Lord’s favor.

Basic stuff, but apparently it needs to be said.

Is God’s infinitude unscriptural?

Some argue that God as described in the Bible is not like the Catholic idea: Infinite, omnipotent, the source of all being. (For simplicity of reference, I will refer to “infinite, omnipotent, the source of all being” all under the term “infinite”.) The Bible, they say, paints a different picture of God, not as an invisible, immaterial source-of-all-being, but as one to whom a man may speak face-to-face, and who works with what he finds in the cosmos (defined as “all that exists”) rather than creating everything from nothing.

I won’t identify to whom I’m referring that denies God’s infinitude, because I don’t want to get sidetracked on questions of whether a particular person said or meant what I think they did. I only want to discuss the ideas.

Quantity versus quality

Another way of putting it, is they claim that the difference between us and God is quantitative, not qualitative. If God is infinite and we’re finite, then there is a qualitative difference between us, not merely quantitative. This is because there can be no proportion between the finite and the infinite. If we are finite and God is infinite, then he is not 100 times greater than we, or 1,000 times, or a million times — resulting in a 100:1 proportion, or 1,000:1, or a 1,000,000:1 proportion, all of which might be huge but are nevertheless finite proportions. Rather, he is infinitely greater. Therefore there can’t be merely a quantitative difference between us, because you can’t quantify the infinite.

But they deny that God is infinite, and therefore maintain the idea of a quantitative difference only. God is what we are, only he’s much, much (though to a finite extent) stronger, smarter and more knowledgeable, and is also immune from sickness and death.

Those Greek eggheads

A problem that some express with the idea of God’s being infinite (as above defined) is that it comes not from the Bible but from Greek philosophy.

Rather than taking the Bible at face value, they argue, the early Church allowed itself to be influenced by Greek intellectual culture, and reinterpreted the scriptures and the Gospel in Greek philosophical terms, for the sake, I suppose, of making it more acceptable to that culture. And why make it acceptable? Perhaps out of pride? Or giving them the benefit of the doubt, maybe for the purpose of spreading the Gospel more easily — even at the cost of corrupting it? Continue reading

Easy grace and the seed falling on rocky ground

Sometimes it seems like the whole Church has forgotten to include the Gospel’s “words of judgment with its words of hope”. This thought occurred to me this past Sunday at Mass, when I read the following prayer from the “Devotions in Preparation for and Thanksgiving After Mass and Communion”, in my pre-Vatican II missal:

Remember not, O Lord, our offenses, nor those of our parents; neither take Thou vengeance of our sins.

This falls under the category of “Prayers You Don’t Hear Anymore”.

Then last evening during my devotional reading I came across this passage, which ties the foregoing to the parable of the seed falling on rocky ground, in a way which had never occurred to me:

‘He that heareth the word, and straightway with joy receiveth it.’ [Mt. 13:20]

‘Straightway with joy.’ The message that began, ‘Repent ye, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand;’ the message that centres in the Cross, with its tremendous disclosure of the horror and awfulness of sin; the message which speaks to us of the Son of God, made subject for our sakes to hunger and weariness, to scorn and hatred, to agony and death; the message which declares again and again how we too must take up our cross and follow Him if we would be His disciples; the message which forces on our sight the unspeakable gravity of human life, and of its issues when this world is done with; the message that speaks to us of the day of judgment, and of the outer darkness, and of weeping and gnashing of teeth; … surely this is not a message which a man can really take in its entirety into his soul with nothing but immediate, unhindered joy; nothing but a light-hearted gladness in the moral beauty it presents, the hopes of which it speaks, its promises of forgiveness, and its note of victory.

Joy there is, indeed, for all who truly take the message to themselves, and humbly dare, God helping them, to seek to know all that it has to say to them; joy which has some semblance, some forecast of that for which He endured the Cross; …. Yes; but there is something else first; … something else, without which that inexpensive brightness, that easy hopefulness that somehow things will all come right with us, is apt to be a frail, resourceless growth, withering away when the sun is up, and the hot winds of trial are sweeping over it.

For if Christianity is to be to us what we know it has been, what we sometimes see it is to Christ’s true servants, in the time of trouble, when the heat is beating down upon us, we must have opened out our hearts to it, we must have broken up the soil for it, that freely and deeply its roots may penetrate our inner being; we must have laid bare our life to its demands; we must have taken to ourselves, in silence and sincerity, its words of judgment with its words of hope; its sternness with its encouragement; its denunciations with its promises; its requirements with its offer; its absolute intolerance of sin with its inconceivable and Divine long-suffering towards sinners.

Surely, surely we need to think more than many of us do think of these things; we need to realize that no religious life is strong which does not rest on penitence, penitence thorough and sincere and living; penitence such as brings the soul, with all its secret sins, all its half-conscious self-deception, all its cherished forms of self-indulgence, right into contact with the demand, the sternness, the perfect holiness of Him Who died for it.

Often, I think, there are trials of doubt and onsets of unbelief, in which the endurance of a man’s faith may depend on nothing else so much as on this, whether he has really known, not the evidences of Christianity, not its coherence as a theological system, not its appeal to our higher emotions in great acts of worship, not even the beauty of its moral ideal, but its power to penetrate the heart and to convince of sin; its power to break down our pride with the disclosure of God’s love and patience with us, with our blindness and ingratitude, our obstinate rejection of His goodness to us; its power, then, to bear into a broken and a contrite heart the first glimmer and the growing radiance of that joy that cannot be till penitence has gone before — the joy that no man taketh from us; the joy that all the discipline of life may only deepen and confirm; and that, through the heat of sorrow and suffering and persecution, when and as God wills, may be ripened unto life eternal.

Francis Paget, The Spirit of Discipline (London: Longmans 1902), pp. 148-151.

Hearing the Gospel and receiving it with joy — as indeed we should — but forgetting the part about dying to self, and taking up our cross daily, that is, repenting and resisting sin even to the point of suffering, or worse; failing to warn people of the danger of sin to their souls, even to their eternal peril, since the Gospel only means that God loves us so much that he would never punish us for our sins — though why such a Gospel involves a crucifix is a puzzle — is this the shallow soil in which the seed is unable to take root, and “when affliction or persecution arises because of the word,” perishes?

Be not conformed

William F. Buckley, Jr. writes of Evelyn Waugh:

“He knew people, he knew his century, and, having come to know it, he had faith only in the will of God, and in individual man’s latent capacity to strive towards it. He acknowledged the need to live in this century, … ; but never, ever, to acclimate yourself to it.”

William F. Buckley Jr., “Evelyn Waugh, R.I.P.“, nationalreview.com, November 17, 2005.

“Be not conformed to the spirit of the age, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind ….” Romans 12:2.

Of bread, flesh and communion

Andrew, on the blog Reformation 500, is a Protestant and an old online buddy of mine, going back several years. In a comment to his post “This is My Body Pt 2“, Andrew writes, “When [St. Paul] says ‘the bread we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ’ it sounds to my ears more like the Reformed understanding. Why otherwise would he not have said ‘the bread that we break, is it not the body of Christ’?”

In another comment he says, “There is no reason to think a literal eating of Christ would be salvific.”

I disagree on both counts.

In the verse Andrew cites (1 Cor. 10:16), the word “participation” is the Greek word koinonia. This same word is used throughout the New Testament to refer to the fellowship of the saints:

“And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship (koinonia), and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” Acts 2:42

“And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship (koinonia); that we should go unto the heathen, and they unto the circumcision.” Gal 2:9

And also to our communion with God and with Jesus:

“God is faithful, by whom ye were called unto the fellowship (koinonia) of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.” 1 Cor 1:9

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship (koinonia) with us: and truly our fellowship (koinonia) is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” 1 Jn 1:3

And even the communion of marriage:

“Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion (koinonia) hath light with darkness?” 2 Cor 6:14

But in the context of the verse in question, koinonia refers specifically to the kind of communion you have when you eat what is offered in sacrifice. When you eat what is offered, you become a partaker or a participant in the sacrifice: Continue reading

Hebrews: How Jesus saves us

(…continued)

3. Jesus saves us by (1) offering himself in sacrifice as both priest and victim; and (2) continually making intercession for us.

In order to save us, Jesus became incarnate. He did this so that he might become a priest who can make expiation for our sins:

“Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.” 2:17-18

“In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” 5:7-10

“This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek.” On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘Thou art a priest for ever.’” This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant.” 7:15-22

“Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly sanctuary; … But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second.” 8:4-7

The ongoing manner in which he saves us, is by his constant intercession in our behalf, as high priest in the heavenly sanctuary:

“The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” 7:23-25

Jesus’ blood ratifies the new covenant.

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…. Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred which redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hence even the first covenant was not ratified without blood.” 9:10-12, 15-18

“Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into a sanctuary made with hands, a copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” 9:23-24

The essence of Jesus’ sacrifice is that he did God’s will, even at the cost of his own life:

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings thou hast not desired, but a body hast thou prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Lo, I have come to do thy will, O God,’ as it is written of me in the roll of the book.” 10:1-7

It all hangs on Jesus’ priesthood and self-sacrifice:

“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to a judge who is God of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks more graciously than the blood of Abel.”
12:22-24

Are altars now done away with? On the contrary,

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city which is to come.” 13:10-14