Tuesday, February 28, 2012

FMI Annual Congress Presentation 2 - Practically Apologetic Part V of V: The Eucharist

The Eucharist is probably my most favourite Catholic "thing" to talk and teach about. Why? Because it is - as our Catechism of the Catholic Church says - the "source and summit of the Christian life" (par. 1324). But ave you ever been in a discussion with a non-Catholic Christian on the topic of the Eucharist and have never been able to tell them where in the Bible the evidence for this is? I mean, you're a good Catholic and all; you know what the bible pretty much says about the Eucharist but locating it is another matter. I'm about to help you with those location and some.

The first thing that needs to be considered before we dive into scripture, however, is the beginning: the birth of Christ, namely his birth place, Bethlehem. When translated from Hebrew, the name "Bethlehem" literally means "house of bread" ("beth" meaning "house", and "lehem" meaning "bread").The Hebrew "lehem" is very similar to the Arabic and Maltese word for meat/flesh, "laham", so "Bethlehem" could easily mean "house of flesh" as well, but since we are looking at the Hebrew word of a Hebrew town and with Christ's discourse in John 6 in mind, it is very fitting that Christ be born in a place named "house of bread".

Secondary to the birthplace of Christ, there is the manner in which he is born. Christ is born and as we know he is laid in a manger to rest. The manger was the feed trough for the animals. The word "manger" is very similar to the Italian word "mangiare" which means "to eat". So here we have the infant king, Jesus Christ, born in the "house of bread" and laid in a manger - an feeding trough - offered to humanity as food for the entire human race. But to fully grasp this concept of Christ being "food for the world" we have to look now to the Biblical evidence, and this is where it all comes together (parts bolded for emphasis):
[35] Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
[36] But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe.
[37] All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out.
[38] For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me;
[39] and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.
[40] For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day."
[41] The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." 
[42] They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?"
[43] Jesus answered them, "Do not murmur among yourselves.
[44] No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.
[45] It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.' Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.
[46] Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father.
[47] Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.
[48] I am the bread of life. [49] Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 
[50] This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
[51] I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh." 
[52] The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"  
[53] So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you;
[54] he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 
[55] For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
[56] He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. 
[57] As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
[58] This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever." - John 6:35-58
So as you can see this caused a bit of controversy, so much so that many of Christ's followers left him at that point because they understood him on a literal level, to "eat his flesh and drink his blood". It's very important to note that while Christ was in the habit of using hyperboles and speaking in parables, he often had to explain what he meant when he spoke this way. What is most poignant about John 6 with many of his followers leaving him is that Jesus did nothing to stop them. If Jesus was being figurative and not speaking in literal terms, don't you think he would have tried to stop those from walking away by saying something to the effect of, "Hey guys, don't go! Let me explain to you what I really meant by all that!" But he didn't. Jesus was perfectly content to let them walk away because - as we know - today still people refuse to accept this "difficult" teaching and walk away from Christ in this respect.

So what's the Biblical evidence for the Eucharist? Let's go through a few: 

Exodus 16 & Numbers 11 -- the "manna", i.e. the bread that fell from Heaven which Jesus speaks of in John 6 

Matthew 26:26 (Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19) -- the sacrament of the Eucharist is instituted 

1 Corinthians 10:16 -- the Eucharist is participation in Christ's body and blood 
1 Corinthians 11:23-29 -- Receiving the bread and the wine in an unworthy manner is to profane against the body and blood of Christ 

Exodus 12:8, 46 -- the Paschal (Passover) lamb had to be eaten 
John 1:29 -- Jesus is referred to as "the Lamb of God..." by St. John the Baptist 
1 Corinthians 5:7 -- Jesus is called the "paschal lamb who has been sacrificed" 

And if you really want to knock an anti-Catholic's argument for six, refer to history, i.e. historical Christianity. The Early Christians celebrated the Eucharist! We turn to the wisdom and teachings of the Early Church Fathers for more proof that Christ is truly present in consecrated bread and consecrated wine: 

"[heretics] abstain from Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ..." - St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Smyrnaeans 6, 2, 2 (~110AD) 

"For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh." - St. Justin Martyr, First Apology, 66 (110-165AD) 


Wednesday, February 15, 2012

FMI Annual Congress Presentation 2 - Practically Apologetic Part IV of V: The Communion of Saints

Praying to saints and the Fundamentalist accusation… 
Christian fundamentalists will claim that Catholics praying to saints is immoral and contrary to scripture, and they base this accusation on two core arguments:

- Jesus the “one mediator” or 1 Timothy 2:5; and 
- praying to saints as equated to necromancy which is forbidden by God through scripture 

Let’s look at them one by one: 

1 Timothy 2:5 
Fundamentalists will reliably quote 1 Timothy 2:5 in an attempt to refute the Catholic practice of praying to Mary and the saints (i.e. intercessory prayer) and the sacrament of Reconciliation, i.e. confessing your sins to a priest. The verse reads like this: 

"For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" - 1 Timothy 2:5 

It is suggested and the implication is made that praying to Mary and the saints or by confessing our sins to a priest we ignore Christ's work on the cross for our salvation. So how are we to understand this verse and what does is it really referring to? 

The mediation between God and men in 1 Timothy 2:5 speaks (and should only be read in context of) in terms of salvation; redemption. It it not speaking in the context of intercessory prayer or the passing on of divine instruction (paradosis; Mark 3:14, 16:15), else it would be in clear contradiction of the instruction given by Paul and Peter to pray for (James 5:16) and teach each others (2 Timothy 1:13). In other words: we are saved/redeemed by Christ; he alone brings us to God the Father, but it is by humans hands, under the authority of Christ in his commissioning (Matthew 28:19), that others are able to come to him by discovering the fullness of truth in his words (Romans 10:17). Besides, if we read the very beginning of 1 Timothy 2, we see St. Paul has written this: 

"First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life, godly and respectful in every way. This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour" - 1 Timothy 2:1-3 

The fundamentalists argument has no credence whatsoever in light of this; a text without a context is a pretext. We are exhorted by Christ through scripture not only to prayer for one another, but to confess our sins as well: 

"Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." - 2 Corinthians 5:17-20 

"'If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.'" - John 20:23  

This is an extract of a private message I sent to a fellow Youtube user, an "ex"-Catholic, that claimed that prayers to the saints (e.g. St. Anthony, St. Jerome, St. Joseph, St. Anne, etc.), apart from being idolatry, was necromancy, the "conjuration of the spirits of the dead for purposes of magically revealing the future or influencing the course of events" (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/necromancy) and thus in breach of the Commandments. 

This Youtube user referred me to a part of the Old Testament where this takes place and why it is forbidden. I went on to explain why praying to (i.e praying through the saints) is acceptable. In the Old Testament; NECROMANCY is forbidden, i.e. conjuring the dead to commune or attempt dialogue with the deceased. The Lord, in 1 Samuel 28:3-25, abandons King Saul (in disguise) because he has consulted the witch of Endor to commune with the prophet Samuel. God was angry at at King Saul because he failed to wait upon the Lord as God told him to. 

When Catholics pray to the saints, we're not actually attempting dialogue with them or expecting them to speak back; we're simply asking them to pray for us because they are close to God; they intercede for us; all supplications are put to God. In light of that: in Mark 15:34-36, as Jesus is hanging on the crucifix, he cries out to God, "Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?" which is translated to, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" but the bystanders mishear what Jesus uttered and believed he was crying out to Elijah: "One of them ran, soaked a sponge with wine, put it on a reed, and gave it to him to drink, saying, 'Wait, let us see if Elijah comes to take him down.'" (v36) 

Don't you think it's strange, based on what they [mistakenly] heard, that instead of condemning Jesus for attempting to "commune with the dead" by calling out to Elijah, they waited to see if Elijah would actually come and take him down from the cross? Yes, Jesus calls out to his Father, but the bystanders don't hear it that way. Why didn't the bystanders rebuke Jesus for the sin of necromancy if he was calling out to a "dead guy"? 

The Youtube user then attempted to make his case with 1 Timothy 2:5, which says this: 

"For there is one God, and one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." 

This is all well and good, but Jesus is the "one mediator of God and men" for our Salvation (redemption), and let's not forget what is said in 1 Timothy 2:1-4 right before this brief discourse on Christ as our mediator for Salvation: 

"I desire therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men: For kings, and for all that are in high station: that we may lead a quiet and a peaceable life in all piety and chastity. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, Who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth." 

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, is actually instructing us to pray for one another so that we may be led to God who wants all men to be saved and "come to knowledge of the truth". Now, you could argue that Paul is exhorting the living to pray for each other, but as the saints in Heaven are no longer bound by the weight of sin as men are on earth (Romans 3:23, 1 John 1:8), and if the heavenly are aware of the affairs of men (sic.) on earth (Luke 15:10), wouldn't it actually be better for us to ask the saints to intercede for us rather than asking the earthly, those that are in as much need of Salvation as we are? 

Ultimately, all prayers are directed to and are answered by God, but this does not mean we cannot have others praying (interceding) for us. If I were to ask you right now to pray for me, would you then be interfering or standing in between myself and God? Don't you then become a mediator? No, certainly not, because I wouldn't come to you to be "saved" (to seek Salvation), but I could come to you to ask you to pray for me as James 5:16 instructs: 

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." 

Asking the righteous to pray for us is actually supported in the Old Testament as well: 

"The LORD detests the sacrifice of the wicked, but the prayer of the upright pleases him." - Proverbs 15:8 

"The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous." - Provers 15:29 

And more recently...
I had a debate with a pastor of a Baptist church based in California over saintly intercession and devotions to saints. Let me give you a run down of what he assumed Catholics believed about it, and I quote: Catholics do pray to saints. They are taught that they, those who pray, are not worthy to approach God themselves, so they, Roman Catholic Church followers, are taught to pray to the saints to intercede for them. But, you know what? I believe that in God's infinite mercy, He hears their prayers because they are not responsible for what they are taught. "No one goes beyond what they are taught." 

Is that what we believe?!? 

As Catholics we are fully aware that it is God alone who hears all and answers all prayers, but this does not mean that we cannot have others praying for us. We are, as we read in Hebrews, "... surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses..." (Hebrews 12:1) and who are these "witnesses"? They are they angels and the saints; those who are fully united with Christ in Heaven. And how do they pray for us? God allows them to, for God is God of the living, not the dead (Luke 20:38). Does St. Paul no ask others to pray for him in his letters to Timothy (1 Timothy 2:1-8)? If mere earthly men have the power to pray for others, then why should there be an impediment to those united with Christ in Heaven to pray for us also? 

And here’s something fundamentalists often miss about things like Catholics praying to Mary and the saints: NO Catholic is explicitly taught or told that they MUST pray to the saints. We believe it is efficacious to but it is not mandatory. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16). 

But then this guy went on to accuse Catholics that we warp the biblical understanding and definition of the term “saint” to suit our own beliefs and doctrines. So let him know how it is… this is what we believe: 

There are two different understandings/uses of the word "saints". There are the living saints - Christians - whose desire it is to be sanctified in the Lord; and then there are the saints in Heaven who HAVE been sanctified in the Lord and made fully holy in communion with Christ. And what exactly does Luke 20:38 say about the saints, sanctified in heaven? 

“Now he is not God of the dead, but of the living; for all live to him.” - Luke 20:38 

Because God wills it, the sanctified in Heaven hear our prayers through God and they pray with us urging us on to be sanctified ourselves as it says in Hebrews 12: 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…” - Hebrews 12:1

The angels and saints in Heaven are cheering us on. Why? Because they, as much as our Lord in Heaven, desires us to be fully united with him and experience the beatific vision.


Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Quick Follow-up: We "earn" our Salvation?

I received a reply to the blog entry I posted last night ("NOT by faith alone...") and for some reason it didn't publish so I apologise to who wrote it (the response came up as "anonymous"), but in brief it was implied that somewhere in my post I had suggested or said that Catholics try to "earn" their salvation and work their way into Heaven. I would invite you to read over the post again and a third time if need be; no where in that entry did I say or even imply that Catholic try to "earn" their salvation and work their way into Heaven. I'm going to be very forward and say that you, the respondent, did not bother to read through the entry properly and in doing so missed the entire point of it.

So for you and others who may have missed the point (although I can't see how I could have made it more clear), allow me now to clarify:

The Catholic Church has NEVER taught that salvation is "earned" and no where in that blog entry do I state or suggest that Catholics try to "earn" their salvation. This is not the Catholic understanding of faith and works in the role of salvation and this is not was I was advocating; quite the opposite in fact.

Salvation is the free gift of God. It is grace that saves us and faith that justifies us but like with any other gift, it can be rejected. When we commit mortal sin - when we are gravely disobedient to God - we fail to love Him and fall out of communion with him. 

The works spoken about here are of twofold meaning: 

1.) These works show that we are children of God and that grace is present in us (Ephesians 2:10); and 
 2.) These works are the actions of believers desiring to walk in holiness and be as close to God as possible because when we knowingly act contrarily to as God desires, we sin, and sin is what separates us from God. 

So therefore we mus bear in mind these things: 

"You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." - Matthew 5:48 

"... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" - Philippians 2:12b 

"But he who stand firm until the end shall be saved." - Matthew 24:13 

"For we share in Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end." - Hebrews 3:14

Remain a friend of God, do His will, and persevere until the end.


Tuesday, February 07, 2012

FMI Annual Congress Presentation 2 - Practically Apologetic Part III of V: NOT by faith alone...

Works of Faith
"Sola Fide" or "faith alone" is the assertion made by Protestants (or a majority of them at least) that faith alone is sufficient for one's salvation, even to the exclusion of all human effort and works. This was a recent topic of discussion between myself and a Protestant friend of mine when we were discussing the doctrine of Justification and "faith and works". 

So what does the Bible have to say about this? 

"Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." - Matthew 7:21

"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." - Galatians 5:6 

"And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love." - 2 John 1:6 

"We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But if anyone obeys his word, God's love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did." - 1 John 2:3-6 

"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books." - Revelation 20:12 

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad." - 2 Corinthians 5:10 

"But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God "will give to each person according to what he has done." To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger." - Romans 2:2-8 

"Since you call on a Father who judges each man's work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear." - 1 Peter 1:17 

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." - Romans 2:13 

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'" - Matthew 25:40 

"Through him and for his name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith." - Romans 1:5 

"Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully." - 2 John 1:8 

"It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned." - Hebrews 6:4-8 

"First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds." - Acts 26:20 

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" - Luke 6:46 

"But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous." - Luke 14:13-14 

"You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." - Luke 5:14-16 

Another example that comes to mind is the thief hanging on the cross next to Jesus (Luke 23:32-43). Some argue that it was faith alone (sola fide) that saved him, and in part this is true, but the thief could have retained faith in his heart and done nothing to receive the grace of salvation. It was the fact that the thief spoke out and asked Jesus, "remember me when you come into your kingdom" (verse 42) that he received the gift of salvation. It was faith that enabled him to do so, but faith without showing you have faith is dead faith. 

There is also this to consider: the woman who suffered bleeding (Luke 8:43-48); she reached out believing that she would be healed by touching the hem of Jesus' cloak. If she had sat there and done nothing, would she have been healed? Would faith alone been enough to heal her? The woman stepped out in faith in order to be saved. In the same way, good works must come from faith in order for them to be good works. 

There is also the matter of Abraham in Genesis 22. God asked that Abraham sacrifice his only son. Abraham went to do so willingly but imagine if he refused! Abraham was able to do so because he had faith, but never did he ask "Lord, is it not enough that I have faith in you?" Abraham's faith is justified when an angel of the Lord stops him from sacrificing Isaac: ""Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (verse 12).  

For me the kicker is James 2:14-26...

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, 'Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,' but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, 'You have faith; I have deeds.' Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder. You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called God’s friend. You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead."

The common misconception made by anti-Catholics is that we preach "faith OR works". But James 2:14-26 makes strong emphasis that faith alone (sola fide) is inadequate, but works accompanied by faith will save you. Good works must always be performed with faith, as it is faith (grace) that enables us to perform them. 

What is most poignant in James 2:14-26 is this: "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder." (verse 19) "Even the demons believe..." if to have faith is to believe, and if to have faith in Christ is to have believe in Christ, then honestly, as a believer, I sure don't want to be likened to that of a demon! And I might just add that the only place you’ll find the phrase “faith alone” is in James 2:14-26 (verse 24 to be precise), but it’s preceded by “not by faith alone”. 

How do we know faith is real? Faith is real because of what it enables us to do! How do we know if another has faith? Can we see faith? No, but we can see faith put into action, and this is how we know that faith is real and resides within people who have it: 

"By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" - Matthew 7:16 

In order for faith to be known, it must be manifested; faith alone is never sufficient: 

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt lose its savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It is good for nothing any more but to be cast out, and to be trodden on by men." - Matthew 5:13 

How do you keep the "savour" of salt? How do you keep the light and warmth of faith? By putting it into action, of course; by using it and showing the world that you have it: 

"Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house." - Matthew 5:15 

Christ wants our faith to shine from the inside out: 

"Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock" - Matthew 7:24 

It's one thing to hear the word, but to act on them is something different all together, and this is what Christ instructed us to do. We do ourselves and each other a great disservice when we do not put into practice what we have been taught by Christ, as to do so comes from faith. By putting our faith into action we prove the genuineness of our faith. If you have faith, it needs to be demonstrated, else it is dead faith and justifies nothing.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

The Bible: A quick thought and reflection...

I began teaching my Year 12s about reading the Sacred Scriptures during the week, and I was trying to think of ways to make it appealing to them. I decided in the end to be honest and forward with them. I told them: 

"Folks, there's probably nothing I can do to make you enjoy reading the Bible or to make you excited about it. I won't sugar coat it for you nor will I dumb things down for you because the Bible, the Sacred Scriptures, is what it is: it is the inspired Word of God; it is, as Christians truly believe it to be, our salvation history and contains very important lessons on how man has reached out to God and how God has desired to be in a relationship with us as a family united in his kingdom. If that fact alone appeals to you, then I openly encourage you to pick up your Bibles outside of class time and begin reading it. If this does not appeal to you, then I'd be more than happy to speak with you one-to-one to try and work out a way I could encourage you to explore the Word of God." 

This made me realise as I went to bed on Friday night of how much love I have for the Sacred Scriptures and how much treasure there is to be found in this precious book. The more I read scripture, the closer I am to my Lord and the most holy Catholic Church.

"I interpret as I should, following the command of Christ: Search the Scriptures, and Seek and you shall find. Christ will not say to me what he said to the Jews: You erred, not knowing the Scriptures and not knowing the power of God. For if, as Paul says, Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, and if the man who does not know Scripture does not know the power and wisdom of God, then ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - St. Jerome (Commentary on Isaiah Nn. 1.2: CCL 73, 1-3)

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

FMI Annual Congress Presentation 2 - Practically Apologetic Part II of V: There's something about Mary...

Full of Grace and Ark of the New Covenant
In the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke we read of the archangel Gabriel coming to Mary who is in Nazareth (a city in Galilee) and declares to Mary that she will bear the son of God and call him "Jesus". The archangel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, full of grace" (Luke 1:28; "Hail, O favoured one" in other translations). The term "full of grace" ("gratia plena" in Latin) for Mary comes from the original Greek manuscript of the Gospel of Luke (who was a Greek himself). The word used by the archangel Gabriel (i.e. the word St. Luke uses for it) for the Blessed Virgin Mary was "kecharitomene" which translates to "having been graced" or "having been favoured". The archangel Gabriel is speaking in what's known as the "perfect passive participle", meaning Gabriel is talking about a quality that is and was always present, namely freedom from original sin.

How can this be explained in layman's terms? Mary's preservation from original sin is like this: if you fall into a pit and I pull you out from it, I've saved you. In the same way, if you're walking along and I prevent you from falling in the pit (either by warning you about it or physically stopping you before you get there) I have also saved you this way. In the latter instance, I have "preserved" you from the fall, ergo Mary has been "preserved" from original sin.

Mary's Immaculate Conception is not of her own doing (Catholics do not deify Mary) nor is it the doing of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. Preservation from original sin is the gift given to Mary by God. Was it necessary that Mary be free from original sin in order to be the mother of the human person of God (Jesus Christ)? No, but it was fitting that she be preserved from it. Just as the Ark of the Covenant from the Old Testament (Exodus 25:10-22) was crafted according to detailed and specific instructions given by God, so too was Mary created with a purpose: with Christ, giver of the New Covenant, in mind. This is why we call Mary the "Ark of the New Covenant". To emphasise what this means, have a look at the following table and I will finish things with this to allow you to ponder these things within your own heart:

 The Wedding at Cana and Mary'sIntercession
The following is a statement from an anti-Catholic I received regarding Mary's intercession at the wedding at Cana:

"In John 2:1-11 Christ performed the miracle under no one's direction. Mary simply stated 'they have no wine'. It could have merely been an appeal to fix an embarrassing situation, or an appeal that He reveals Himself in glory. It was not a direction or an order. His reply was hardly intimate, as He made it clear He will act according to Gods timetable in God's way." 

And here's how I responded: If I could also make a comment about the Wedding at Cana miracle, I think what's being ignored here is that there would not have been a miracle had Mary not pointed out the problem to Jesus. Also consider the fact that Mary knew her Son could do something about it, so did she really need to explicitly make such a request? My older brother is an I.T. specialist and whenever I have a computer related problem, all that is required is a quick text message (e.g. "My router isn't working") and he's on his way to assist. My brother knows by pointing out the problem to him that I want him to fix it for me because he is qualified to rectify the issue.

Jesus did respond to his mother by saying, "Woman, what is that to me and to thee? my hour is not yet come" (John 2:4) but what's important to note is what Mary said to the servants in the next very verse: "Do whatever he tells you to do". There is no indication to us in scripture that Mary made an explicit request of her Son, but that's not to say that such a request may not have ever happened at all. Don't forget that John points out that not all of what even Jesus said or did is contained in scripture (John 21:25) and so needless to say there's a lot we're missing out on there.

There very well could have been an explicit request made to Jesus by his mother, Mary. There is the implicit request made in the pointing out of a problem as I pointed out earlier, but make note of Jesus' change of heart: whether there was an explicit request made or not, Jesus acknowledged the problem pointed out to him by his mother and she knew he could do something about it. Implicit or explicit, Jesus honoured the "request" and by doing so honoured his mother (“honour thy father and thy mother”; he was a commandment-keeping Jew after all.

The precedent set for this we read about in the Old Testament: We also see intercession to King Solomon from his mother, Queen Bathsheba:

"Then she said, 'I have one small request to make of you; do not refuse me.' And the king said to her, 'Make your request, my mother; for I will not refuse you.'" - 1 Kings 2:20

The intercession shows the queen possesses power in the royalty of her son's kingship. And why would someone ask the Queen Mother to intercede and not someone else? What God-fearing son would ignore his mother’s request? Secondary to that, King Solomon had many wives and concubines so asking one of them to intercede didn’t make sense because they were not “queens” and therefore subordinate to King Solomon. But King Solomon’s mother, like Mary the mother of Christ the King, could not be ignored.

Like King Solomon, Christ the King was a commandment-keeping Jew and by listening to his mother keeps the commandment:

"Honor your father and your mother, as the LORD your God commanded you; that your days may be prolonged, and that it may go well with you, in the land which the LORD your God gives you." - Deuteronomy 5:16

By keeping this commandment In John 2, Christ demonstrates for us the influence and very important role mothers have in our very own lives.