Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old vs New

Angry, jealous, vengeful, wrathful. These are words used to describe the God of the Old Testament. Kind, loving, merciful, forgiving. These are words that describe the God of the New Testament. On the surface these appear to be polar opposites of each other and have led people through the centuries to believe that these are different Gods. Marcionism is a heresy that believed this very notion and the early second century Church had to deal with it. It has caused many Christians to ignore, dismiss, or outright reject the Old Testament altogether. It has led others to believe that God can change over time. God has evolved from a wrathful God to a loving God. This has been used to justify everything from women’s ordination to same sex marriage.

But the God of the Old Testament is the same God of the New Testament. God has not changed. God has not evolved. God is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow. God is eternal. He exists outside of time. More correctly stated time exists inside of God. Every moment in time is the same moment for God. Everything happens now and every place is here.

So how do you explain the seemingly different Gods in the bible? It is a matter of perspective. Where we see wrath God sees love. Where we see vengeance God sees justice. Where we see things skewed God sees them as they truly are.

A mother was boiling spaghetti for dinner one night. As she was cutting up vegetables to go in the sauce she saw her almost three-year old daughter reaching for the pot of boiling water. She screamed at the top of her lungs, “No!” as she ran over and slapped her daughter’s hand. “Hot!” she scolded. Every parent knows that this was done out of love. The mother did not want to see her daughter get hurt. She wanted to protect her daughter and teach her what she needed to know. From the daughter’s perspective all she saw was her mother’s anger. She did not understand that it was done for her own good. She could not see her mother’s love. All she saw was wrath.

This was the way it was for the young Israel. They were God’s chosen people but they were infants. God had to be the loving parent and do what was necessary to teach and protect his children. Where God saw only love Israel could only see anger and wrath.

God made a covenant with his people and was faithful to it. Israel broke the covenant at every given opportunity. God always forgave them and called them back to fidelity. They always strayed. Children have never been good at listening to their parents but they have never failed to imitate them. The Father sent the Son to show us the way. With the teacher living among us God had no reason to show anger or wrath and could be what he was – love. This God of the New Testament is the same as the God of the Old Testament. The only thing that changed is the way that we perceive him. When we view God through the prism of a parent we can clearly see that everything God did was done through and with love.

My heart is full because the tomb is empty.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Can I get a Halleluiah?

In February of 2004 Mel Gibson released The Passion of the Christ. It quickly became the gold standard that all bible based films to follow will be judged against. It is a virtual time machine, transporting the viewer back to Jerusalem for the crucifixion of Jesus. The entire movie is in the original languages of the day – Aramaic and Latin and is as true to life as a movie can possibly be. It is a gut wrenching film that leaves any believer totally mortified. It captures the essence of what our Lord endured for us out of love for his children. It depicts the day that God’s chosen people, the people of Israel, put their God to death over their lust for power. It will be forever the greatest film on the passion and crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Fast forward two thousand years. On March 20, 2016 Fox will be airing the live musical The Passion.  This is taken from their web site describing the show:

On Palm Sunday, March 20, 2016 (8:00-10:00 PM ET live/PT tape-delayed), FOX will present THE PASSION, a two-hour musical event, airing LIVE from New Orleans, that tells the 2000-year-old story of the last hours of Jesus Christ’s life on earth. Hosted and narrated by actor, writer, producer, director and New Orleans native Tyler Perry (“The Haves and The Have Nots,” “Gone Girl”), the special will feature a cast of today’s biggest stars (to be announced) performing a variety of popular music, arranged by executive producer and hit music producer Adam Anders (“Glee,” “Rock of Ages”).

Set in modern day, THE PASSION will follow the dramatic and inspirational story of Jesus of Nazareth, as he presides over the Last Supper, and then is betrayed by Judas, put on trial by Pontius Pilate, convicted, crucified and resurrected. The story will unfold live at some of New Orleans’ most iconic locations, while featuring a procession of hundreds of people carrying a 20-foot, illuminated cross from Champion Square outside the Superdome to the live stage at Woldenburg Park on the banks of the Mississippi River.

As you can see from the poster’s tagline this is, “The most celebrated story of all time set to today’s biggest music hits.”

The passion and execution of God is now a celebrated story set to music. This is inspirational and will fill you with joy and happiness. It will make you jump to your feet and shout “Halleluiah!” as you sing and dance to music performed by some of the biggest names in the industry.

Someone please help the devil up off the floor. He has just peed himself from laughing so hard. We are so far removed from the reality of the day that we take the single greatest tragedy in all of human history and we put it to music and sing and dance. He can quit now for his work is done.

Perhaps it would help if people understood what the word passion actually means. Passion comes from the Latin word Pati which means suffering. The Passion of the Christ properly translated means the Suffering of the Christ. Today we translate passion as strong and barely controllable emotion, intense sexual love, an intense desire, or something arousing enthusiasm. Given the modern day definition of passion it is easy to see how we can view the Passion of the Christ as a celebrated story that fills one with joy.

There is nothing to celebrate or nothing inspiring about the crucifixion of Jesus. It is mankind’s greatest and gravest error in judgment. It is the act where we lusted for power and murdered the very God who created us and loved us. God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Jesus so loved the world that he consciously willed the very breath into the men who were scourging him, mocking him, driving the crown of thorns onto his head, and nailing him to the cross. At any time Jesus could have simply willed them out of existence but he allowed them to do their evil for the love of us.

Our celebration as Christians does not begin until the stone is rolled away and we find the tomb empty. No depiction of the crucifixion should leave us feeling joyful or inspired. If it does the depiction is not from God but from the devil attempting to lead you away from God. Be horrified by the crucifixion. Be grief laden by it. Be filled with the true meaning of passion. And then on Easter Sunday when they find the stone rolled away and the tomb is empty let your hearts burst with joy for he has risen as he said he would. Be then inspired by Christ’s love. Become a lantern carrying the light of that love to all those still in darkness. Go forth and proclaim joyfully the good news to all people.

Do yourself a favor and skip this presentation that borders on sacrilege. Watch The Passion of the Christ instead. You will never look at Easter the same way again.

My heart is full because the tomb is empty.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Spoon Full of Sugar...

The Young Messiah was recently released and is the latest in bible based movies. It portrays Jesus as a seven year old boy who has not learned that he is the Son of God or what his purpose in life is yet. It has gotten great reviews and people generally seem to like the movie. Is it worth seeing?

If you have a well formed understanding of your faith and can separate fact from entertainment you will probably do ok seeing this movie. If your theology changes every time you watch something on TV you might want to avoid this movie.

This movie is well acted and well filmed and is entertaining. As a movie goes it is a good movie. As a source of Christian instruction it is horrible. It is worse than horrible. It is heresy. Heresy is any belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious doctrine. The heresy in this movie is that Jesus did not know who he was until his mother sat him down and told him. He was just a normal human kid living a normal human life until Mary told him he was God. This is contrary to Catholic doctrine.

This movie wrestles with one of the great mysteries of Christianity, the dual nature of Jesus. Most of the popular heresies in Christian history have revolved around this subject. To begin to have some sort of understanding on this we have to first start by understanding the difference between a person and a nature.

A person is a unique entity or being. There are only three types of persons – divine, angelic, and human. A divine person is God and we have three in one, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. More correctly stated we have the Father, the Word, and the Holy Breath. From the Father came the Breath and one word was uttered – Jesus.

An angelic person is a completely spiritual being created with full knowledge to be servants and messengers of God. These are the angels and the fallen angels or the demons.

Last in the pecking order we have the human person who is an incarnated spirit. We are not spirits trapped in flesh who get released when we die. Nor do we become angels. We are spirits joined with flesh and we will have physical bodies for eternity after the final judgment.

Jesus is not a human person. Jesus is solely a divine person. When we say that Jesus is fully human and fully divine we are speaking of his nature or the essence of his being. The second person of the Trinity took on a human nature when the Word became flesh.  It is this dual nature that has confounded people since Jesus came on the scene. Something cannot be 100% one thing and 100% another. That is if we view nature as a physical substance. Think of nature to be more like light.

Imagine for a moment a room with a box in the middle of it. On the left is a bright red light. On the right is a bright blue light. When we turn on just the red light the box turns red. When we turn on just the blue light the box turns blue. When we turn on both lights an interesting thing occurs. When we view the box from the left the box is red. When we view the box from the right the box is blue. When we view the box from the middle where both lights are shinning on it equally the box is purple. The box is 100% red and 100% blue at the same time. The red light does not displace the blue light and the blue does not displace the red. They exist equally.

The red light represents Christ’s divine nature. The blue represents his human nature. There are times where Jesus’ divine nature shines through, like when he is healing or forgiving sins. There are times when Jesus’ human nature shines through, like when he laments in the garden of Gethsemane. Most of the time in scripture we see the two natures shining together.

Equally as difficult to understand is what knowledge Jesus had during his time on earth. Some believe that as a divine person he was omnipotent and had all of the same knowledge as the Father. Others believe the exact opposite; that Jesus only knew what he was taught. We can cherry pick individual scripture passages that will support either belief.

I believe that, like with his dual nature, Jesus had dual knowledge. Jesus is a divine person and knew his divinity. He and the Father were one. Jesus knew who he was, what he was, and why he was here. Yet, Jesus could not tell you whether or not it would rain the next day. When Jesus became incarnate he became like us in all things except sin. He set aside his omnipotence and was obliged to know only that which the Father revealed to him. He had to learn human things the way a human does. He was not born knowing how to speak, to feed or dress himself. He had to learn to go to the bathroom.

Think for a moment of all of the knowledge that God posses as being contained in one book. This book represents the tree of life from the story of the Garden of Eden. God told man not to open the book. We did and we fell. When Jesus became man he closed the book and handed it to his Father. Jesus then only read the pages that his Father gave him to read and not one word more. From the very beginning Jesus had the divine knowledge of who he was and only the human knowledge he learned or was given for a specific task.

The major heresy in The Young Messiah is that Jesus did not know who he was until he was told by his mother. He was also able to create and restore life at seven. It makes for a good movie but does not reflect the teaching passed down through the centuries by the Church Jesus founded.

So what is the danger in it? It’s only a movie right? Unfortunately people these days believe what they see on a screen, whether that be from the internet on a computer screen, a non-Christian documentary on the T.V., or a religious based movie on the big screen. In the days of the eleven second attention span people learn through the images that enter through the eyes. And the devil knows this all too well.

How do you get a dog to take a pill? Usually you wrap it in a piece of cheese or some peanut butter and give it to them. They swallow the pill with the prize. Satan uses this same trick with us. He takes something morally corrosive and wraps it in gooey goodness. Take a heresy and wrap it up in a good film about the god boy and people will eat it up. Wasn’t it just darling the way he made doves out of clay and brought them to life? See, he had the power to resurrect people even when he was that young. Once you get someone walking down the wrong road it becomes easy to slowly wind that road completely away from God without the wanderer ever knowing the better.

We are instructed to avoid the near occasion of sin. We are to avoid those places that make it easier for us to fall into sin. Going to a movie such as this one with a questionable understanding of your faith puts you in the near occasion of sin. It should be avoided. If you are well founded in your faith and can see this as nothing more than entertainment then by all means go enjoy.

My heart is full because the tomb is empty.

Monday, March 14, 2016

That Man is I - The Parable of the Unforgiving Servant

“For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. “When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. “But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. “So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’ “And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. “But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’ “So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’ “But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. “So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. “Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. ‘Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?’ “And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” – Matthew 18: 23-35

Let’s start by putting this into the proper perspective. In today’s value one talent is worth $1.25 million dollars. A denarii is worth one day’s unskilled labor. In Jesus’ day this would have amounted to about $20 in bread. The slave owed his master about $12.5 billion dollars while being owed only $2000 dollars.

Twelve billion dollars is an unpayable sum of money even for the richest person on the planet today. There was no bankruptcy back then. Failure to make good on the debt means you forfeit the collateral of that debt. The collateral for this man was not only his own life but the lives of his wife and children and their children to come. The man’s lineage for perpetuity was condemned to slavery.

But the master had compassion on the slave. Acting in mercy he forgave the slave's entire debt setting him free. He forgave an unpayable debt and restored the man to his full humanity. The redeemed slave then found the man who owed him a meager two thousand dollars and demanded payment in full. When that slave could not pay the man foreclosed on the loan and took the slave's collateral - the slave's life, as payment for the debt.

Why would a man who had just been shown an overwhelming amount of mercy then respond with so little mercy? Was it selfishness, ingratitude, or maybe pride? While meditating on this parable I was struck by the answer like taking a two by four to the head.

That man is I. I am the ungrateful slave. I have accumulated an unpayable debt to the Lord my God through the sin I commit every day. There is nothing I can do to repay what I owe. The cost of my sin is my life. God would be just if he were to foreclose on this debt and cast me into the abyss for eternity. But what does the merciful master do? He forgives. He redeems. He makes me whole.

Then what do I do? I call due every debt owed to me by those I know. I hold grudges. I stay angry. I refuse to acknowledge the existence of those I love because of something they said or did. I demand my hundred denarii and will not accept one penny less.

Mercy shall be received in the same measure that it is given. If I want to receive God’s mercy in its fullest I have to give mercy in my fullest. I need to forgive anything and everything that is in the way of my love for another. I have to let go of the hurt, hate, and fear that keep me from seeing Jesus present in every person.

What is the difference between pity and mercy? Pity is compassion extended downward to the humanity of a person, looking upon that person as being lower than myself. Mercy is compassion extended upward recognizing Christ in the person and acknowledging the dignity that person has because they were made in the image and likeness of God.

We are called to be merciful not pity filled. In this Jubilee Year of Mercy let us forgive every single denarii owed to us as we have been forgiven our ten thousand talents.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Attention KMart shoppers, we have a blue light special in aisle five.

A common occurrence in our world today is the phenomenon known as church shopping. It has become so common in fact that you can almost say that it has reached an epidemic proportion. People are desperately searching for the church that fits them the best. They are always looking for the church that has the best music, or the best pastor, shortest sermons, or best donuts and coffee after the service on Sunday. In many ways it resembles dating. When my needs aren’t met it’s time to end the relationship and take off to find the next best church.

It seems to always follow the same course. People bounce around between the different mainstream Christian religions, the Catholics, the Lutherans, the Methodists, the Presbyterians. Eventually shoppers find their way to one of the many nondenominational churches or even join one of the mega churches of our day. If they search long enough many leave altogether. They can no longer find the relevance of church in their lives.

The motivation for shopping is always the same. The shopper is looking for something for them self. They are looking for a church that makes them feel good. They are looking for a church that entertains them. They are looking for a church that they get something from. Why not? Why attend a church where you feel bored or where you don’t get fed the spiritual food you are looking for?

In other words we church shop for purely selfish reasons. It is all about me and what I can get out of it. But then church isn’t about me is it? I do not go to church to get. I go to church to give, to give worship, praise, and thanks to God. God is the reason for church, not me.

Jesus came to earth to start a church. He did not just start any church or every church. Jesus started only one church, the universal church, the Catholic Church. Jesus started the Church and then instituted her leaders – the first twelve apostles. Jesus lived with the twelve and passed on to them both his knowledge and his authority. He then sent them out to teach, baptize, and to make disciples of all nations. He didn’t tell them to write a book. He did not tell them to build a temple. He told them to teach and teach they did. They were the original magisterium and they passed on to their successors everything that Jesus had passed on to them.

All other Christian churches were founded by men who believed they knew better than the Church Christ founded. Martin Luther and John Calvin, the pioneers of the reformation, didn’t leave the Catholic Church because of the abuses and corruption. They stated very clearly that any human institution would suffer such corruption. They left because they thought their personal theologies were better than that of the Church of Christ. They mainstreamed church shopping.

When one is baptized they are adopted into the family of God. Technically speaking there is only one Sacrament of Baptism and that sacrament brings one into the body of Christ, the Church. There is no such thing as the Lutheran Sacrament of Baptism or the Methodist Sacrament of Baptism. There is only the Sacrament of Baptism instituted by Christ to confer grace. Every person who receives this sacrament is in reality baptized Catholic.

I was born into the Collins family, with the Collins identity, and the Collins genetics. I am a member of this family whether I want to be or not. My neighbors are Hispanic. They have much better food than we do and much livelier music. They laugh and hoot and seem to have much more fun than my family has. Is it possible for me to cease to be a Collins, cross the street, and become a Martinez? No, it is not. Even though I am in the Martinez house, eating the Martinez food, and dancing to the Martinez music I am still a Collins. Nothing can ever change that.

Likewise, I was baptized into the family of God, into the body of Christ which is the Church Jesus himself established. This is something that cannot be undone. It does not matter if I like the sermons in the Lutheran church or the food at the Methodist church or prefer the entertainment at the mega-church. I am Catholic and belong in the Catholic Church.

I do not go to church to get anything. I do not go to church for the music or the sermon. Church is not about me or how I feel. I go to church to give, to give God worship and praise. I go to church every Sunday and pledge my oath to Jesus in the flesh that I will live my life for him and die for him if so asked. I cannot do this in any other place but the Church Jesus created.

My relationship with the Catholic Church is one of covenant marriage. I am not in a dating relationship that I can end when I no longer am getting something out of the relationship. Marriages that stay faithful bear fruit, even through the dry times. Marriages that stay faithful do not go out in search of self fulfillment. Faithful marriages are never about the self, they are about the other. They are sacrificial. They are agape.

If you have been courting different fruitless spiritual relationships maybe it is time to look at the only one Jesus arranged for you. It is time to stop shopping and to come home.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Cross or Crucifix?

Catholics are often criticized for our use of the crucifix (a cross with a corpus on it). Many non-Catholic Christians believe that a simple cross is a better representation of the Christian faith. Jesus has risen and is no longer on the cross so we shouldn’t depict him still there by using a crucifix. But many of the same people who say this have no problem depicting baby Jesus in a manager in their nativity scenes. Why still show baby Jesus in the manger? He grew up you know.

Another argument against the bare cross is the fact that the cross came down at the same time Jesus did. The cross did not stand after his death. It was not up when he rose from the dead. A bare cross cannot possibly represent the risen Lord because it did not exist when he rose. It only existed before he was nailed to it. If you want to better represent a risen Christ wouldn’t an empty tomb be a better visual?
Cross or crucifix? That question is very similar to Protestant or Catholic. It is a decision only you can make for yourself. All I will try to do here is to give witness as to what they mean to me.
When I look at a cross with modern day eyes I see the symbol most commonly used to represent Christianity in the world today. When I look at a cross through historical eyes I see one of the most horrendous torture devices ever created. The cross was designed to kill a person with great pain and suffering over the longest period of time possible in the most humiliating way possible.  Every last bit of dignity was stripped from those crucified. Regardless of what the crucifix looks like, every person crucified was hung on the cross naked, including our Lord.

The cross was thought to do more than that. It was believed that anyone who died on a cross was cursed. They could not go to the god in the heavens as they did if they were burned. Likewise, they could not go to the god of the earth as they would have if they had been buried.

“If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.”  - Deuteronomy 21, 22-23

 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree” – Galatians 3, 13

The cross cannot provide salvation. The cross is no more the sacrifice than the chalice used to hold the Sacred Blood is the sacrifice. An empty cross is nothing more than just that – empty. By itself it holds no value.

Now when I look at a crucifix I see something very, very different. When I look at a crucifix I see what true, sacrificial, agápe love looks like.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.” – John 3, 16 – 17

If you want proof to this passage just look at a crucifix. There is nothing that happens in my life that a crucifix cannot help me with.

When I am suffering the physical pains my aging body provides I can look at a crucifix and be reminded as to what true suffering really is. My pains aren’t so bad.

When I am feeling lonely I can look at a crucifix and be reminded what real loneliness looks like. I am not so alone.

When I am feeling like all of life is against me I can look at a crucifix and see what it truly means to be hated.

When I am not feeling loved I can look at a crucifix and be instantly reminded of how much I am loved.

This is something a bare cross simply cannot do. A bare cross states for the person who wears it, “I am Christian.” Add the corpus and a crucifix states for Jesus, “I am love.” The first is a statement about who I am, the second is a statement about who God is. There is no comparison.

One of the criticisms of the movie The Passion of the Christ was that the torture of Jesus in the movie was too brutally depicted. It is heart wrenching to watch. For many, including myself, it was the first time we connected the reality of Christ’s sacrifice to our understanding of that reality. I can never look at a crucifix the same way ever again. It is also the reason why a bare cross doesn’t move me as it once did. A bare cross is to Christianity what a porterhouse steak is to the modern consumer. Both are great as long as we don’t have to see the reality of where they came. As a hunter I have a deeper appreciation of meat because I know firsthand where it comes from. As a Catholic I have a deeper love for the crucifix because I know the reality it represents.

Jesus is agape. A crucifix is the visible representation of that agape. A cross represents the Christian, the crucifix represents Christ.


My heart is full because the tomb was empty.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

To be or not to be.

The thing that sets man apart from the animals is our ability to reason. Reason is nothing more than a mathematical equation where we plug in the variables of input from our senses, knowledge, experience, and our feelings to come to a logical conclusion. Feelings are the most subjective part of the equation and often overpower it becoming the only factor in making a decision. We often make the wrong choice solely based upon feelings even if all of the other parts of the equation point to a different outcome.

Feelings were created by God and are in and of themselves a good thing. Feelings and emotions make us who we are. But feelings can be used by the devil as weapons to get us to turn from God and sin. Some of the best arguments that support something bad are based entirely on feelings. Take gay marriage as an example. Too many people have bought into the argument that just because two people feel love for each other that they should be allowed to marry one another. This reduces the purpose of marriage down to nothing more than a response to feelings. It totally neglects the designed purpose and reason for marriage. A screwdriver makes a really good pry bar but that is not what it was designed for or its intended purpose.

The devil loves feelings. Feelings are easily manipulated and some of the strongest motivators in our lives. Satan wants us to feel. God wants us to be. When we feel we are much less likely to do. The devil wants us to feel charitable. When we feel as if we are charitable we are much less likely to do charitable things. God wants us to be charitable. The devil wants us to feel love because we will be less likely to be loving. God wants us to be love. The devil wants a feeling; God wants action.

Love is not a feeling even though we feel love. Love is an action, it is something you do. It is something you do even if you don’t have the feeling that goes with it. To love someone is to will the best for them. You do this despite how you feel at any moment in time. You can be mad at somebody. You can be hurt by them. You can feel hatred towards them. As long as you still will the best for that person you love them. When you will the best for your enemy you love them. We are commanded to love everyone. We are commanded to will the best for everyone despite how we feel about them. The devil wants us to ignore the action and concentrate on the feeling.

We fast to exercise our will. We fast to demonstrate to the devil and to ourselves that we are in control of our feelings and our wills. It is a Lenten Friday and my feelings are screaming to me that I want a fat, juicy cheeseburger. I exercise my will to say no to the intensified desire for meat on Friday. Anything exercised becomes stronger. Anything not exercised atrophies. When we don’t exercise our wills to do that which is right we become a slave to our feelings. When all we do is feel we cease to act.

My heart is full because the tomb is empty.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

An Old Testament Poem in a New Testament Era

In diaconate formation we are studying the Psalms. We learned that a psalm is a Hebrew poem that is still used to this day as a way to pray and worship. We borrow this concept in our own Liturgy of the Hours that we pray throughout the day. A psalm can take on one of five forms:






The assignment for this class was to pick one of these five forms and write our own psalm. I thought I would share mine with you.

A Song of Exuberance

For the director of music. With 6 string lire, harmonica, and jaw harp.

1 My soul delights; my heart bursts with joy
   My happiness knows no end; ecstasy wells up within me
   For my God is a risen God, great King conquering over death

2 He has shattered my fetters of sin; liberated me from the netherworld
   Paid my ransom with his own blood; his life he poured out for me
   He bought me back from my tormenter; he forgave the debt

3 He restores my soul; my life he makes anew
   He picks me up from out of the dirt and calls me friend
   His mercy is never ending; his love endures for all generations

4 Come then, let us sing praise and worship
   Striking joyfully the timbrel and harp
   Filling his courts with songs of thanksgiving

5 Sing with gladness to the Lord our God
   Fall before him with honor and homage
   And bless his Holy name

6 Know that the Lord is God; King of all creation
   For he is our God and we are his people
   Molded from dust in his image

7 I will love the Lord with my entire being
   Singing joyful praise and offering thanksgiving
   All the days of my life

Friday, March 4, 2016

Voters, lend me your ear.

It is a leap year. What makes a leap year special? It is the year in which Americans choose who will be their leader for the next four years. That’s right; it is election time once again. We will hear over and over that voting is a civic duty and that we must vote to be responsible citizens. That begs the question; how is a faithful Catholic to vote?

I will not tell anyone whom they should vote for. That is a decision each person has to make for them self. What determines who gets your vote varies greatly from one person to another. Some vote a straight party ticket. Some will never vote for anyone in a particular party no matter how much they agree with the person just because of the party affiliation. Some are single issue people who vote for candidates based upon their support or opposition of a particular issue.

Far too many Catholics compartmentalize their faith in order to vote for the candidate of their choice. There are certain issues that are central to our faith that should be non-negotiable to every Catholic. The big three that I will discuss are abortion/euthanasia, religious freedom, and defense of traditional marriage.

Catholics cannot support any candidate who has publically supported the murder of another, whether that is a baby in the womb, someone at the end of their life, or someone who wishes to end their life because they are suffering with a terminal illness. Many candidates try to sidestep this issue by claiming to be personally opposed to abortion and euthanasia while publically supporting it because it is the will of their constituency. This is not an acceptable compromise. We cannot judge a person’s heart. We can only judge their actions.

Catholics also cannot support any candidate who has publically supported restrictions on religious freedoms. Every politician supports an individual’s right to worship in their homes or houses of worship. Many do not want us to live our faith openly in the public square. There have been several laws enacted in recent years that attempt to force Catholics to do things against their conscience and the teachings of their faith, such as forcing Catholic employers to provide contraceptives and sterilization procedures to their employees.

The latest battlefield in this arena is the defense of traditional marriage. Every society has the right to define for itself what it considers marriage. What society does not have the right to do is to force that definition upon faith communities. For a Catholic, marriage was created and defined by God and reaffirmed by Jesus. We cannot choose to believe it to be something different and still call ourselves Catholic. If we do not stand in opposition of the State dictating to the Church how she must view marriages we will see the Church persecuted as never before. It will start with us being labeled as discriminatory because we will not marry same sex couples. We will lose our tax exempt status and associated faith organizations, like hospitals and schools, will be forced to close their doors.  Finally they will come for the Church proper and we will see our clergy jailed for refusal to comply.

We have already seen these activities begin. Catholic Relief Services in Illinois was forced to get out of the adoption business because they refused to allow same sex couples to adopt. LGBT groups saw this as a huge win for their civil rights movement while Catholics viewed it as an intrusion into their right to live their faith in the public square. Ultimately, it was the children who would have been adopted into a traditional family who have been harmed the most. We can only expect these types of infringements to grow if candidates who support traditional family values aren’t representing us. No Catholic, in good conscience, can support a candidate who is against traditional marriage and traditional family values.

So what is a Catholic voter to do? The first thing is to get informed. This is more important for the Catholic voter than any other. We need to be true to our faith and our entire way of life hangs in the balance. We need to know not only what the candidates say they believe but how they have voted on these issues in the public forum. Judge actions, not words. The ones who are pro-Catholic should get our full support. The ones who violate even one of the non-negotiables cannot get any of our support. I may like you as a person but if you openly support murdering children you will never get my vote.

What happens if both choices violate the non-negotiables? I have heard many solutions to this question –

1: Vote for the least evil. You are still supporting evil by your vote.

2: Vote for the person who will do the least amount of harm. They will still be doing harm.

3: Vote for the person who will do the most good. A thousand good acts do not justify a single evil act.

4: Don’t vote. You won’t be supporting any evil but you have no right to complain with what you get.

5: Write in a vote. Virtually the same thing as not voting at all.

I actually do not accept premise number 4. You don’t lose your right to complain just because you didn’t vote. Again, voting for an evil is still supporting an evil. If we only have two candidates and both publically support abortion, a Catholic nonnegotiable, you cannot vote for either.

This is where I think our Amish friends are on to something. They almost never vote in the big elections because they cannot support any of the candidates at that level and be true to their faith. Instead, they concentrate their efforts by only voting locally for those candidates who most closely reflect their values. In this way they are the more likely to have a reasonable government close to them. Sensible government percolates up, not trickles down.

So dear voter, educate yourself and decide wisely who will represent you. You way of life depends on it.

Here is a Presidential voter’s guide put together by the Illinois Family Institute for the Illinois Primary. It offers valuable information for voters in any state.