Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Eternal Truth or Fallacious Ideology?

"There are not more than 100 people in the world who truly hate the Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they perceive to be the Catholic Church.  ....As a matter of fact, if we Catholics believed all of the untruths and lies which were said against the Church, we probably would hate the Church a thousand times more than they do." 
--Archbishop Fulton Sheen


You may be saying to yourself after reading through the order of the Mass what one of our family members said to us after attending Mass with us. "Why, there wasn't anything that happened today that seemed out of order! I've feel like I've been to church."  What he did not fully comprehend was how "in order" the Catholic Mass is. He was surprised by the worship, he was surprised by the grace. We think he was surprised that he had been duped by his own misguided conclusions about the Catholic Church. He may have realized for the first time that the Mass is where we witness and participate in an eternal Truth that was set before time began: There is no worship [communion] without sacrifice.

Worship of Almighty God was never meant to fit the mold of the society around it. The currents of history and society change yet it all flows in the same direction toward disorder, toward the worship of Self. But the worship of God is to remain ordered according to the biblical purpose of reordering humanity [Self], reshaping what was twisted in us through The Fall. Our part in worship of our God must not be altered if we are to be faithful to the covenant God made with humanity to restore and reorder what was severed at The Fall.

It was the transcendence of this worship of the Church in history that drew our minds and hearts further into the depths of the Sacred Authority and the Sacred Tradition. In spite of corruption within and outside the Church, through the rise and fall of empires, wars, persecutions, martyrdom, heresies, debauchery and imperialism, the Catholic Church has not lost her way in her course through history. The House of God has stood on solid ground. And in spite of the unfortunate division in the Church brought on by the protestors of the Reformation, she stands today because God has not abandoned His covenant with His Church. It is indeed the mystical union of Christ and His Bride. It is truly a mystery that a 2,000 year old institution remains unified and vibrant throughout the history of entropic civilization. What can explain it but the sovereignty of God?

Stand before the majesty of God. Let its splendor silence you.
But when the hush passes, so must your silence.
Then it is time for anthems and glad hallelujahs.
 --Calvin Miller

Let's now pick up each of the building materials of the Church: the trowel (Apostolic Authority), the mortar (Sacred Tradition) and the bricks (Sacred Scripture). As we hold them up to the light of history there are a couple of questions we want you to ponder in our examination. We've mentioned them in the writing of our journey because we had to answer it for ourselves as we made our way toward the Catholic tradition of the Faith. The questions should have a response from people of the Christian faith--Catholics and Protestants. What do you believe and why do you believe it? Why are or aren't you Catholic in your beliefs?


The Trowel of  Sacred Authority

During one of my (Jeff)  meetings in Joe's office, he spoke about the Catholic Church's position on Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and Sacred Authority.  Joe used the analogy of a three-legged stool to explain these tenets of the faith. This lesson blew my Protestant mind. Joe asked me: if the Protestant Church stands on Sacred Scripture alone, where do Protestants get the other two legs?  I didn't know how to answer.  He looked me in the eye and softly said, "The other two legs come from the Protestant pastor." Our experience in service to the movement had acquainted us with what it is like to try to stand on a one-legged stool. It doesn't work! One might be able to balance for awhile, but sooner or later things topple.

Each Protestant denomination has what they refer to as their "denominational distinctive(s)" gathered from their understanding of the Bible. They have to form these distinctive(s) or ideologies in order to justify their existence and differences from other Protestant denominations!  Throughout my pastoral ministry, I frequently had to try to stand on the one legged stool of Sola Scriptura and try to be persuasive enough so individuals would choose the denomination and local church I served. Sometimes people "opted in" often they didn't, because there are plenty of choices on the menu of the Protestant movement.  If they didn't like "the stool" of Christianity I represented, there were plenty of others from which to select.  And choose they do.  Makes one wonder how Protestants can accept Jesus' high priestly prayer in The Gospel of St. John chapter 17 when Jesus prays to The Heavenly Father asking, "that they all may be one..., so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (verse 21).  There is anything but unity in the Protestant Movement today. Is it any wonder that nonbelievers and critics of the Christian faith have a hard time believing in God when we are the supposed reflection of Him?! Lord have mercy; please forgive us.

The Reformers either minimized or removed Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority when they posited Sola Scriptura. That move has cost the Protestant Movement dearly. This has caused Protestants to neglect or to forget the oral traditions and teachings of the Apostolic and early Church Fathers that were handed down from one generation to the next before scripture teachings were collected, canonized, and printed into the Bible. By neglecting Sacred Authority, any person can claim that they have an authoritative position and therefore "the right" to espouse positions, preferences or theologies. And by tossing the mortar of Sacred Tradition aside, the bricks tumble easily into piles of distortions of Sacred Scripture.  Take for example King Henry VIII whom we have already mentioned.  He didn't like the Catholic Church's position on divorce. So he began his own Protestant movement known today as The Anglican (Episcopal) Church. My denominational heritage harks back to this rebellion through the influential Anglican priest, John Wesley. 

Mother Church

Although the elements of this world constantly beat upon the Church with crashing sounds, the Church possesses the safest harbor of salvation for all in distress. 
--St. Ambrose of Milan

When you are edging closer and closer to a cliff [abyss],
 the most progressive direction is backwards.
--Peter Kreeft

The Catholic Church is the Protestant movement's mother Church. It is the doctrines of The Church that the Protestant movement borrowed from to formulate the multifarious denominations (innovations) in Protestantism's short history. And no matter what you feel or believe about the Catholic tradition of the Faith, you must acknowledge her role in history. It is because of the authoritative, genuine, systematic presentation of The Faith present in the Catholic Church since the establishment of the Church by Jesus Christ through his apostles, that the Christian faith abides. So why do Protestants generally dismiss the authority and traditions of  the Catholic Church?

In a movement that was formulated out of rebellion it is no surprise that the apostolic authority present in the role of the Pope with the Magisterium of the Catholic Church bristles beneath the saddle of a renegade movement. If one says the word "papacy" there are immediate reactions according to our understanding or lack of understanding of the word. Let's set the record straight.  With the advent of the Messiah, the commandments were fulfilled in the gospel ("good news") of his life, he was the fulfillment of the covenant and of the sacrifice required thereof. When Jesus founded the Church, he established a concrete, visible covenant institution that can be traced in an unbroken line down through the centuries. Just as the covenantal Jewish religion was a living organism and an organization around all that God is, so too, the Church completes the fulfillment of the  covenant by being both a living organism and an organization around all that God is. 

Many individuals and their movements over the centuries have attempted to diminish the faith to simply a spirituality, to do that is to remove it from its roots. Yes, it is spirituality, but it is spirituality that stands in organizational and practical terms as well. When Jesus ascended to heaven after the resurrection he didn't leave his disciples with an idea that he hoped would survive history.  He didn't say, Do the best you can to make sure every community has a  church.  He established an identifiable and authoritative Church--a visible organization and organism.  God made it possible to identify the Church, to know where it could be found, and to be sure of its foundation.

Peter, the most successful failure of all time, was fallible, weak, fickle, impulsive, and undependable BEFORE the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. When Jesus declared that apostle Peter was the "rock" (Matthew 16:18) on which he would build his Church it certainly wasn't on what was visibly attractive about Peter's faith in Christ.  God's sense of humor and his consolation settles down on a man with a nature much like ours fulfilling a purpose much greater than himself.

St. Peter became the first bishop of Rome, and the bishops of Rome who succeeded him (pope: papa) have continued to fill his special office as the "Rock." The Catholic Church was established by Christ, built with the trowel, mortar and bricks of the Faith and it has indeed been immovable, it is built on the Rock of God's faithfulness. It is not without flaw, no informed Catholic would deny that. Yet, in spite of itself the Church has withstood the currents and storms of history on the sure foundation that Christ intended when he promised his apostles that the gates of hell would not prevail against it. It continues to stand in spite of its own prodigal people who take their inheritance for granted. It continues to stand even as some of the prodigal actions of the Reformation set into motion innovations that threaten to destroy the integrity of God's plan for the salvation of humanity.

A closer examination of the Catholic Church, the great House of the Faith, reveals that the central role of the Church in historic Christianity has been the decisive function of upholding Christian orthodoxy (literally "correct doctrine") since its inception. The Catholic (the word means "universal") Church has protected the scope of Jesus' saving mission: to redeem the whole world and restore humanity to its created order. Because of that the global Church embraces all peoples, calling us to "gospel" Christ to every nook and cranny that we populate.  In the words of one of our old Sunday School songs, Christ commands that we "brighten the corner where we are."  But here's the rub.  What exactly are we called to brighten the corner of our world with? The Light of the World is not fueled by our intentions and our ideas, we are to be fueled by His intentions. And this is where much of the Protestant movement debates, divides, crumbles.  Are we to bring a social gospel of good works to the world? Certainly! Are we to live devout and holy lives? Certainly! Are we to amend Truth and make it a sidebar to what is relevant in our generation? Are we to fashion attractive and entertaining styles of "worship" relevant to every age? Are we to formulate a Christian identity based on the culture or nation's influence?  There you go.  There's where we find ourselves. The golden calf still rearing its handsome head! How did we get here?

Some of Martin Luther's protest against some of the abuses in the Catholic Church hierarchy were founded on facts, no one can dispute that. But what Protestant history seems to ignore or acknowledge is that the Catholic Church underwent reformation during the same era that Luther broke with the Church.  Read history from a Catholic perspective and you will have to acknowledge that what you may perceive went wrong with the Catholic Church was corrected from within, under the Sacred Authority of the Church.

Since the Protestant Reformers tossed the bathwater (Sacred Authority) out, the baby (Sacred Tradition) went with it! Aren't we to stake our lives on the content of the Apostolic Tradition, Scripture, and the Magisterium where the heritage of the Doctors, Fathers, and saints of the Church remains intact? Aren't we to allow their ancient teachings to illuminate the light of The Faith in the present darkness of modernity? Aren't we to lead the way to the beauty, goodness, and truth of God through worship in the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist? Martin Luther would surely turn over in his grave if he could witness what his own rebellion against some of the Church's teaching set into motion! Luther's one step to reform the Church eventually, over the subsequent decades, led to the removal of Apostolic Authority all together. And with the denuding of the Sacred Authority (Magisterium) of the Church went the Sacred Tradition. Fast forward 500 years and you see a Protestant movement that is so thoroughly confused and fractured over what the identity of the Church is and what the purpose of Christian worship is that any sense of reform can only remain local and limited in its scope. There is no trowel or mortar; therefore, there is no unity. 

The Mortar of Sacred Tradition

Western theology, particularly since the Reformation,
has emphasized propositions,
a particular way of knowing truth,
that discounts imagination in favor of reason.
--Cheryl Forbes

We read in Christ's prayer recorded in John 17 God's purpose and plan for His one, holy catholic and apostolic Church:  "20I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word,21 so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. 22 And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me."

The words Christ prayed for His apostles revealed the supreme intentions of the Triune God.  Christ spoke Truth for He is Truth.  The Church was not presented as an ethereal idea to be left to the whims of history. There is no wavering here, no floundering about for fear that the plan of the salvation of humanity would fall to pieces once He ascended to the right hand of the Father.  What Jesus said, who He was in the flesh, how He acted in His humanity would not be tossed aside in subservience to heresies, schisms and  protests that polluted the culture and sometimes the Church throughout history. Through the empowering of His Spirit, Jesus protected the Church to do what He commanded. His Church, His Bride, is to be complete, one, whole, holy and it was and is and continues to be present in the Catholic Church. It is so because the mortar of the Sacred Authority and the Sacred Tradition continues to hold fast the bricks of the Church, the redoubtable fortress to protect The Faith.

Philosophies that oppose the historical Christian faith have come and gone with the tides of history and along with them subsequent heresies that sometimes established themselves like a mutant cancer within the history of the Church. We referred earlier to the Arian perversion of the Christian faith that was propagandized for most of the first 300 years of the Church. Through the Apostolic Authority of the Catholic Church Councils, the Church eventually put the heresy down by declaring that "The Christian faith confesses that God is one in nature, substance and essence" (Roman Catechism I, 2, 2).  Declaring the creeds that were developed over those 300 years by the Church's Councils are a Sacred Tradition that most modern Christians accept as fact. We can only do that because the Apostle's and Nicene Creeds were established under the direction of the Holy Spirit through the authority of the Apostolic and early Church Fathers and Doctors. The creeds have been declared as evidence of Christians' belief in one God around the world for over 1,700 years. The blood payment from martyrs made it so; their blood watered the seed of what we sometimes flippantly read or recite.  Blood payment was shed for other beliefs and doctrines, but these beliefs many Protestant denominations choose to ignore. Why?

Arguments against the Catholic tradition of the Faith seem to settle on the infallibility of the Pope, the doctrine of the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and the Communion of the Saints, and the dogma on Mary, the Mother of God. We've referenced the Catechism of the Catholic Church, here now we sincerely recommend you access the articles of faith concerning these teachings. We understand how challenging it is to overcome the default thinking of modernity and Protestant belief, we have made (and are still making) the journey ourselves. The Holy Spirit's  guidance and wisdom enlightens the minds that are open to God, but the posture of the heart must be prepared to lay back in the waters of the Authority of the Church and allow the waves of Sacred Tradition to carry you toward the shores of The Church. Our own intrepid desire for the Fullness of the Faith had to overcome the surfeit arguments and propositions of the modern mind, which include the entrenched misconceptions and perversions of the Catholic Church by uninformed Protestants.

The materialism, utilitarianism, and relativism that have infested modern thinking since the so-called Enlightenment are so entrenched in cultural and Protestant beliefs that to decipher misunderstanding and assumptions requires a deconstruction of perceived reality. If we do not examine what lies behind the reality in the Protestant mindset we cannot comprehend how the Catholic Church has been able to maintain the biblical integrity present in the life of Faith and the life of the Church.

The force of the cultural  tide emphasizes reason and individualism thereby reducing individuals and societies to expediting every endeavor to meet the bottom line, the needs of Self. It is hedonism dressed up with our modern extremes. So much of the house of bricks of Protestantism has given way under the pressure of these tidewaters for so long that it accepts a reality that has seeped into belief and worship. The cultural current now determines how decisions are made and what is innovated to achieve that sense of pleasure or happiness that drives the appetites of society. Assuring that a house of bricks stands on these shifting sands demands reaction and so the Protestant Movement is always reacting to the culture with the sincere, and sometimes insincere, motivation to keep the house of bricks from tumbling.

The Sacred Authority of the Church and the Sacred Tradition that protects the purposes of God for His people have not varied from the early Church's mandate from Christ. Therefore the Brick House has stood firm against the extremes of history. And it still stands on the rock of authority in our most current tidal waves of Modernity caused by The Reformation and The Enlightenment. The Mystery of Faith will not be reduced or individualized to serve humanity. Surrender of the grip we use to define or understand The Faith is required, you have to let go. Worshipping Christ in the Liturgy of the Eucharist is a Sacred Mystery. The early Church did not relent on this doctrine established by God in the Old Covenant and fulfilled by Christ in the New Covenant. The real presence of Christ in the Eucharist is central to worship of Almighty God. It is a doctrine that is steadfast and immovable.  Martyrs abound for this doctrine. Why does someone give their life for that sacred doctrine if it is just ideology or an innovation? 


The Bricks of Sacred Scriptures

“History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page”
--George Gordon Byron

“Disregard for the past will never do us any good.
Without it we cannot know truly who we are.”
--Syd Moore

“Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with
the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.”
--George S. Patton

What are our minds to understand when we read the Word of God? What is taught in the Sacred Scriptures for the sake of our salvation? Are the Sacred Scriptures to serve as leverage for our own theologies, interests or pursuits? Or are we to align our understanding to the Sacred Scriptures in the context of the Sacred Authority that Christ ordained in His Church? Can we comprehend or accept the Sacred Scriptures without the insight and wisdom from a Sacred Authority greater than ourselves?  Are we to reinterpret, reconstruct, or reduce the Truth of Sacred Scriptures as history unfolds? How much of Sacred Scripture is incomplete without the Sacred Tradition? Questions that are difficult to ponder, but questions that have been answered.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church  answers these questions with the Sacred Authority present in the heritage of the Doctors, Fathers, and saints of the Church.  It behooves any Christian to learn from history, and the most reliable and authoritative source for understanding the Sacred Scriptures is found in Catholic doctrine. The bricks of the Catholic Church are the genuine bricks. Protestantism has built their brick houses thanks to the integrity of the Sacred Scriptures protected by the Apostolic Authority of the Catholic Church.  So what do the Sacred Scriptures contain for the purpose of our salvation? And what is salvation according to the Sacred Scriptures?  We certainly can know we are going to heaven when we die if we accept Christ as our Savior, but there is so much more to salvation than reciting a 4-step declaration and saying a prayer. There is much more in us and in our world that needs saving. And that is accomplished when we pursue our salvation by living the covenantal relationship with our Creator that is defined for us in the Sacred Scriptures and the Sacred Tradition.

 I will not abandon you.
--God

From an ancient perspective, the primary purpose of biblical history is to recount our familial history in light of God's covenant plan for his people. Everything points to the divine pedagogy of covenantal existence. Covenant was the coinage of ancient culture, so much so that you will come across the word "covenant" at least 332 times in the Sacred Scriptures. The ancient cultures were layered by ramifications and stipulations that are fascinating to decipher. The take away for our brief attention to them includes some details we want you to keep in mind as we move forward. All covenants included a sacred oath, a sacrifice, and a meal. Many included a mark. And covenants meant life or death to individuals and tribes. The pernicious eroding of all things sacred including sacred bonds or promises, diminishes our modern comprehension of the depth of a covenant's significance. It is our desire for you to grasp how deep the Father's covenantal love for us is and how in the Catholic Church we can restore the sacredness and authority of those bonds and rightly order our worship of Almighty God.

What we come to understand when we read the Sacred Scriptures and mine the Sacred Tradition is, God never wastes words or events. He does not abandon His Church to struggle against the tide of history.  His actions are never superfluous to history, they ARE history. Lord Byron was correct, there is but one page of history that is voluminous with God's grace and mercy. What we see on this side of our understanding of eternity disturbs us, dismays us, causes us doubt.  But God is never taken by surprise and he's never left without options.  Providence and humanity's free will pedal in tandem with the events of history. And most importantly these are subservient to the redemption and restoration of God's creation.

Therefore, the Old Testament isn't something to be left to history as nice Bible stories to tell our children. Present from the beginning of the narrative of humanity is the covenant of God with His creation. It is finally and substantially fulfilled in the Kingdom of God through Jesus Christ and His Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church walks the reader through God's redemptive plan for humanity by surveying the Sacred Scriptures and early Church writings. Once understood in the covenantal context, we can perceive how the Old and New Testaments are unified in the dynamic reordering of creation that is finally fulfilled through the Institution of the Bride of Christ, The Church. It is this integrity with the ancient covenantal relationship that has lead us toward the deep appreciation for and acceptance of the Sacred Tradition and Sacred Authority Christ established in His Church. 


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