Monday, June 23, 2008

War or 24?

So I’m not saying I have a concrete answer on this one, but on the surface I’d have to say that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ended with the defeats of the Taliban and Saddam, respectively. What we see today is counter-insurgency or counter-terrorism. It’s less like war and more like 24.

Okay, part of me says: if we’re using tanks, artillery and combat aircraft, then it’s a war. But at the same time, wars are fought against nation-states not terrorist groups. So again I’m thinking it’s what 24 would be if Jack Bauer was given bunker busters (gee, I hope they do that in season seven!).

Now as it comes to capturing terrorists and placing them in Guantanamo, I would think they should be turned over to the governing state in which they were caught, tried, and imprisoned. Isn’t that what we’d do if we caught a person planning to attack another country? Or would the terrorist be extradited to the country he planned to attack? In either case, he would face some sort of trial and then imprisonment or freedom. In any case, it comes down to definition. What are we in: a counter-terrorism effort or full scale war?

The same thing goes when talking about theology.

Many arguments blow up when people misunderstand each other. Luther’s definition of faith was a combination of the Catholic Church’s definitions for faith, hope, and love. So when Catholicism preached the necessity of faith, hope, and love – they largely agreed with Luther’s faith alone idea.

Sometimes, however, there is full understanding and still legitimate disagreement. Continuing with the Luther-Catholic example, Luther taught that saved souls are merely covered by grace outside the soul while Catholics believe that grace actually enters the soul and totally cleanses it from sin. Hence, while Luther said one who is saved is just a “dunghill covered in snow” (that is, a sinful soul covered in grace), Catholics talk about the glory of the saints and the need for purgatory to cleanse one after death.

Advances in dialogue are now taking place between Lutherans and Catholics – but it’s only because terms are being clearly defined. So I may not have all the answers but I think I have a good idea: let’s start making definitions and first principles, laying a foundation for real dialogue and real solutions.

Why God HAD to Protect Mary from Sin

God can do whatever He wants, right? Well he obviously can’t make a square-triangle or walk through a door and not walk through a door at the same time. In other words, the law of non-contradiction applies as much to God as to us. But can God be forced to do something? Well ordinarily, no.

But here’s one good example to the contrary: Mary.

One apologetic for the Immaculate Conception (which means that Mary was protected from sin at the moment of her conception to the present day) is the simple question: if you had the power to make your mother how ever you wanted, wouldn’t you make her the best you could? We can’t – but since God is all-powerful and all holy, Mary must have been sustained in God’s grace her entire life. It’s a good argument. It’s also supported by the Greek word kecharitomene, a perfect passive participle used in Luke 1:28 to describe Mary as “full of grace”. That word literally means that Mary was always filled with God’s grace, from her conception on.

But the argument, though supported by Scripture, leaves it up to God’s discretion. What if I were to argue that God HAD to preserve Mary from sin? Okay, first off let me say that I’m in no way arguing against God’s free and sovereign will here. What I’m getting at is this: If God promises to make Mary all the things Catholics believe her to be, then He must keep His promise. You may be wondering where in the Gospels God promised us this Immaculate Mother.

It’s not in the four Gospels. It’s not in the New Testament. It’s not even in the prophetic or historical books of the Old Testament.

To find the promise you have to go back to the third chapter of Genesis, when sin enters the world. We all remember that God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, but do we remember what God said to the Devil? Genesis 3:15 is the often called the protoevangelium, or proto/first Gospel, in which God promises to defeat the Devil through a messiah figure. Here’s the verse: “I [God] will put enmity between you [the Devil] and woman, between your offspring [sin and death] and hers [the messiah]. He will crush your head while you strike his heal.”

If you ever wondered why Jesus crushes the head of the snake at the beginning of the Passion of the Christ, that’s why. In the scene, the Devil asks Jesus: “Who are you?” By crushing the head of the snake, Jesus is saying: “I’m the fulfillment of the protoevangelium.” And as you watch the movie, there is great emphasis on Mary, the “woman” referred to in the prophesy. That’s why Jesus is always calling Mary “woman” – not to be derogatory but to refer to her role in the protoevangelium. [And by the way, the striking of the heal in the verse refers to Jesus' passion, death, and resurrection.]

Okay, so God promised Mary. What does that have to do with the Immaculate Conception? Everything. God promised that there would be “enmity between [the Devil] and [Mary].” The word used for this enmity is total, complete, and perfect. According to God’s promise, there could at no time be a lack of enmity between Mary and the Devil. That means no sin, for by sinning Mary would fight for the Devil as his ally.

So God, by freeing binding Himself in promise in Genesis 3:15, HAD to give us the gift of our Immaculate Mother – and what a gift indeed!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Safe Religon

Unfortunately the Devil has done a good job of blanketing our society with a contraceptive mentality. But closing ourselves off to new physical life is also being done on a spiritual level as well.

It’s nothing new

In Exodus 20:18-21, God’s chosen people receive the Ten Commandments then distance themselves from God’s presence on the mountain. They wanted to be close to God, but not too close. They practiced “safe religion” – after all, it’s much easier to follow a list of rules than be in a real relationship. God wanted to make them a kingdom of priests, but they withdrew from Him and eventually worshiped a golden calf instead. In one sense, a statue is even better; it doesn’t make any moral demands on you. Except perhaps for cult prostitution – and the people we more than happy to engage in that sin!

But the practice of “safe sex” today is very much a physical manifestation of the old sin of “safe religion” practiced by God’s chosen people on the mountain. Many pre-Vatican II Catholics were practicing “safe-religion” in their devotion to God which in many cases meant doing the rituals externally without acting out of love of God in the heart. When asked, “Why do you do such and such?” The response would be: “Because the Church does it that way; and if you don’t do it too you’ll go to hell!”

The reason we do everything we do as Catholics is so that God’s life-giving presence in our souls will grow ever more abundantly. By being in state of grace, the very Trinity dwells within us, making us holy. In fact, every time we are properly disposed and receive a sacrament, God is intimately working in our very souls! “Safe religion” is simply an impossibility for Catholics.

One poet referred to Jesus by saying something like: He turns water in to wine and wine into blood – what would do with me?! God wants to enter into us and produce new life, just as a good husband enters into his wife to produce new life. It has always been held that we get out of the sacraments what we put in. Or in other words, the amount of grace we receive is partially dependant upon the barriers we put up to God’s grace.

There is enough grace in the proper reception of one Eucharist to make us saints. Why then are we not saints? Because we fall into the practice of “safe religion” – we want to control our life-giving relationship with God just as many couples want to control their life-giving sexual relationship.

I would think that refuting “safe religion” would be one tactic in refuting “safe sex”. In both cases, we must remember the mission of Christ: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10).

Saturday, June 14, 2008

In Case You Were Wondering

I posted on Facebook the other day something about having fun with my religion students when the police showed up.

Well last weekend I was able to catch up with some old religion students from a couple years ago. It was great! But the story really goes back about a month ago...

I've recently taken up jogging. One night I was out on the high school track and saw a couple figures coming around the side of the school. I wasn't sure what they were up to but figured it may not be good when they noticed me walking and ran away! I thought about calling the police but just figured it was a senior prank and there was nothing to worry about.

So I was telling this story to my old students and two of 'em yelled: "That was you?!" We eventually went out cruising in my Mustang and happened to drop by the high school where we proceeded to joke about the whole thing! It was great. Then the cops stopped by to make sure we weren't getting into any trouble and I just knew we were having way too much fun!

So that's the explanation of my post on Facebook!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why Jesus is Important

Okay, there are many reasons. But one forgotten reason I think relates to both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives so often image God as this angry judge, just ready to lay the smack down on wicked sinners. Liberals, on the other hand, have watered down God to a wimpy grandpa God. I think Jesus is the answer to both problems. Jesus as divine and human. Let's look at the Gospel of John: "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him" (John 1:18).

Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Do you want to know what it means to be a human being? Look at Jesus. This what makes Christianity so different from other religions. It's what makes Christianity better than other religions. It's what makes other religions ultimately false. Buddha might have been a nice guy - but he wasn't God.

For those of you who have been told that God is angry and judgmental, look at the mercy and compassion of Jesus and remember that whoever has seen Jesus, has seen the Father. Like Father, like Son.

For those of you who have been told that God is "nice" and doesn't demand much out of you, think about real love, commitment, humility, and self-sacrifice. The thing that made God "nice" was the death of Jesus on the cross. That's what true love is. That's the love we have to image every day. We have to lay down our lives, our wishes, our desires, and even our dreams, for the good of others.

Got it?