Sacramental Present Truths

This is a page that focuses on religious and theological issues, as well as providing comprehensive teaching from a classic Catholic perspective. As you read the articles, it is my hope they will educate and bless you.

Friday, September 22, 2017

My Journey to a Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part II

This is the second of my upcoming comprehensive exam material, and this one is completely my composition in lieu of the cooperative effort by my classmates.  This one has to do with Theological Foundations of the faith, and more specifically with a question concerning Cardinal Schonborn's statement, "Finis ominum ecclesia" (the Church is the goal of all things).  So, it is my hope that maybe as you read and experience a little bit of my own studies here, you can learn a little something as well.  

"The Church is the goal of all things" - a profound statement made by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn and also elaborated more in his book Loving the Church, in which he devotes a whole chapter to that phrase.  By it he means that the Church, as a means, is a sacrament or sign and instrument of intimate union with God.  But, it is also an end, in that the sacramental grace dispensed through the Church aids in the final goal of the plan of Creation, which is the perfection of a fallen creation and restoration of it to what God intended it to be.  That includes us as human beings, being we are the pinnacle of God's creation ourselves.  That being said, this subject needs to be looked at by the three areas of theology that are affected by it, and I will explain what those are in the next paragraph.

The first area of theology to explore this question will be what is called Fundamental Theology.  Fundamental theology has nothing whatsoever to do with Fundamentalists, but rather is a discipline within the greater spectrum of theology that seeks to establish the fact that God has made supernatural revelation and has established His Church as the custodial interpreter of that revelation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_theology - accessed 9/22/2017).  To put this in layman's terminology, God revealed Himself, as well as His plan, and it is up to the Church to be the reservoir of knowledge concerning that revelation.  Outside of the Church's custodial realm, God's revelation of Himself becomes subjective and open to the whims and fancies of rationalism and other mindsets that deny the supernatural aspect of faith.  This means then, in lieu of that fact, that creation itself is the "first language" God speaks.  If we go back to Aquinas, you will recall that he taught that God authored two "books," one being Nature and the other being Revelation.  In the language of metaphysics, there is also the idea of the Principle of Causality that relates to this as well - everything has sufficient reason to exist, and thus any being that does not contain the sufficient reason for its own existence within itself requires a cause (W. Norris Clarke, The One and the Many.  Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2001. p. 21).  There is only one being in the whole universe who has self-sufficient cause for existence, and thus is perfect and free to create or discontinue anything else, and of course that is God.  God speaks this truth through both Nature and Revelation, and neither "book" can contradict the other (Law of Non-Contradiction) - created things speak to us directly in Nature (through, for example, the Fibbonaci sequence and the Golden Ratio being played out in the design of creation), and God Himself speaks through His own Revelation, which we understand to be Holy Scripture and Tradition.  Now, via supernatural grace, Revelation perfects Nature, and thus we are back to Fundamental Theology.  Creation as the "first language " God spoke is in fact His language, as He Himself "wrote the book."  And, as Scott Hahn notes, God made Nature (at least initially) good, and the more we realize that Nature has goodness attributed by God to it, we then can have grace to build upon that - natural law exists, as Dr. Hahn notes, to prepare human beings for supernatural grace (Scott Hahn, Reasons to Believe.  New York:  Doubleday, 2007.  pp. 54-55).  What that means in terms of Fundamental Theology is that the importance of the role of faith in creation is fundamental to having a correct understanding of the Church.  Creation relates to the Church in several ways - it foreshadows it, serves it, and is perfected by it.  Why?  Because the Church, as the "goal of all things," is where the ultimate deposit of supernatural grace is dispensed to those seeking it.  Therefore, understanding that God is the Creator of heaven and earth (as affirmed in the opening sentences of the Creeds) is the first step to conversion.  The Church, as the guardian of the Fidei Depositum, makes this possible by its evangelical mission.  Therefore, if belief in God is lacking, Christ is unable to be proclaimed and the Church cannot be established - at the heart of the proclamation is what is known as the Kerygma, the story of the economy of salvation in history, and Christ is the focal point of that.  If one doubts God as Creator, then it begins to make faith crumble and the Kerygma cannot be received and accepted.  The Kerygma is a complete legacy of salvation in itself, and therefore what God says must be believed and accepted by faith as true.  It is therefore up to the Church, as the authenticating custodian and interpreter of divine Revelation, to herald these truths without compromise and in their entirety.   That essentially is Fundamental Theology in a nutshell.

We now move onto Biblical Theology, which is defined as a discipline within the broader spectrum of theology that bases the existence of the Church upon what God revealed in Scripture, and in turn the Church is be the conduit of the salvation heralded in the Kerygma to the world.  It is related to Fundamental Theology and Christian metaphysics in that it presupposes that God is the author of the written Revelation, and thus it can be authenticated by the witness of the Church as true.  This of course entails several things as it relates to the narrative of the Kerygma as revealed in Scripture.  First, the Bible presupposes the Church.  Although the Church precedes the complete canon of Scripture in tangibility, nonetheless Scripture in many cases (Old Testament) predates the Church but presupposes its existence by types and the divine order of history leading up to the coming of Christ.  The language of covenant is the key here in understanding the mechanics of this, and as we look at Scripture we see that the framework of the Scriptural narrative is one of a series of covenant relationships - six to be exact - which are a prefigurement of the Church.  As Christ is the culmination of this narrative, there is no further supernatural Revelation after His sojourn on earth (CCC 73).  God begins this work, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church notes, at the Fall in Genesis 3, and the Church is seen as God's reaction to the chaos provoked by sin (CCC 761).  Lumen Gentium also affirms this in noting that the Revelation of the Kingdom is often conveyed by means of metaphors, as well as by typologies of figures and nations found there (LG 6).  As Lumen Gentium 9 notes, "Step by step He taught and prepared this people, making it holy unto itself," referring of course to the people (the Jews) that Christ was to come from.  This preparation, of course, came in the form of covenant. As the Catechism notes again, this means that the "remote preparation" for this gathering together of the people of God begins when God calls Abraham and promises that he will become the father of a great people (CCC 762).  In reality, God made it possible for Abraham to father two great peoples - the first, of course, were his physical descendants, but one of those of that line, Jesus Christ, would birth the other, the "spiritual people of Abraham" known as the Church.  Therefore, every Biblical covenant must be seen as a prefigurement of the Church in the greater plan of God for the salvation of mankind. This also means that the Church has to be one (note Ephesians 4:5 and I Corinthians 12:13), and therefore division tends to hinder the Church's mission. As one Church, it becomes the setting where God unfolds His plan, step-by-step, and therefore the work of salvation is complete and finished (note Ephesians 3:10 and Acts 2:42).  This gives the Church then a mediatory role in salvation in that Christ (who is the source and only Mediator of salvation - I Timothy 2:5) bestows upon the Church His authority to share in that mediation because her people share in the life of Christ via the Eucharist and the proclamation of the Gospel.  It also intersects here with the study of Mariology, as Mary too is a picture of the Church in that regard.  This means the Church, unlike the claims of some Evangelicals, is not merely the aggregation of Christians, but is a mystical body that transcends mere human components but also has a supernatural origin and mission.

This now overlaps and leads into the third discipline of theology called Dogmatic Theology.  This area of theology has to do with the Church in lieu of established beliefs and convictions held by the Church, essentials of doctrine in particular.  Looking at Lumen Gentium again, we see that the Church has been given a maternal attribute (note also Galatians 4:26 and Revelation 12:17) in regard to its members (LG 6).  The life of the Church, therefore, is hidden with Christ until the Second Coming, at which time she will be the perfected Bride united with her Spouse.  As such, the Church in her maternal role nourishes her people with the sacraments, which also dispense the life of Christ and supernatural grace to those who receive them.  This means then that the truth and grace of Christ are communicated by Him through His Church, and thus dogma enunciates that truth.  Dogma is given so that man can have the fruits of salvation communicated to him by the Church, who also nourishes him with the Eucharist and other sacraments.  This therefore gives the Church an evangelistic mandate to "be fruitful and multiply" and to "make disciples" of all nations.  All of humanity is called to be disciples, as God's will for humanity is to be saved and freed from the concupiscent nature of sin and death.  Therefore, rather than salvation being merely an individual choice, the Church becomes a necessary factor in the process and therefore it necessitates those who respond to the call to accept Christ to be in union with His Church.  That makes the Church herself a sacrament, as the Catechism reminds us "the Church in the world is the sacrament of salvation, the sign and the instrument of the communion of God and man. (CCC 780)"  That being established, there is one other factor that completes this - the role of faith.  Only faith can accept the mystery of the Church as the mystical Body of Christ, and like her Spouse the Church too has both human and divine components (CCC 779).  This ties back into Fundamental Theology then in reiterating that the Church is both the means and goal of God's plan.  She is the mystery of salvation evidenced by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit (CCC 778).  Although the Church is the kingdom of God begun by Christ on earth, she is not a completed kingdom yet.  And, that is why the goal of her members is to be brought into perfection by Christ at the end of time (CCC 782).

However, as we see everyday, that perfection is not achieved easily - the Catechism states that glory in perfection is brought by trial (and testing) (CCC 769).  It means that often the Church then will take stands that will place it in a precarious position, as the enemy and fallen human nature often do not respond to the faith of the Church, and thus persecution ensues against her members.  But, in tested faithfulness, perfection happens - growth means strength, and the resiliency of the Church in the face of intense persecution has been testified to over many centuries.  That is because the Church exemplifies the unity of mankind as it was originally intended to be by the sacramental mission she has been given by Jesus Himself.  It is therefore the presupposed goal of humankind to work toward that consummation, which is fully realized in the reality of the Church (CCC 1045).  There is, however, one stipulation - God gave man the free will to choose to do this, and man also has the volition to reject it.  Tragically, many do for many reasons, and those who do reject the message of salvation in Christ through the Church risk a nasty eternity in hell.  God doesn't therefore "send" people to hell - people send themselves.  Christ, through His visible Church on earth, tells people there is a better way, and the mission of the Church is to share that "better way" with all those who would listen.

In essence then, man's innate goal of union with the Church is integral to union with her Head, Jesus Christ.  Man may not realize his need for that goal to be fulfilled, but the need is hot-wired into us.  Man often misinterprets that need and projects it elsewhere, leading in false belief systems that may even have demonic inspiration.  But, the phrase "Finis omnium ecclesia" still holds true - it is the way God chose to do this great work of the redemption of mankind, and only through that narrow door to the Church's nurturing bosom are we to find our fulfillment and restoration in Christ.  It should be the prime quest of every person, but often isn't due to lack of faith or the siren's call of relativism and rationalism.  Man's reason tries to make every way valid as paths to God, but Jesus said in John 14:6 that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man can approach the Father without believing in Him first.  And, this is not just an individualistic quest - the best way to find Jesus is in His Church, to which He calls us all.  Therefore, the Church leads us to salvation, and our goal is to be part of her to receive Him.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

My Journey to A Comp Exam - What I Have Learned Part I

This will be a series of nine articles I am doing based on study for a comprehensive test I will be taking to fulfill my Master's degree requirements.  Unlike a traditional test, these are very detailed questions that require a lot to answer them, as they pretty much sum up what we learned in various courses throughout the program.  In each one of these articles, I am going to be publishing my own study efforts as a sort of self-edification thing, as writing these blogs will be as much a part of my test preparation as it is for benefiting others.  Some of the material may be a little technical, so bear with me!

My classmates and I also have compiled a study outline for each question, with each of us focusing on a particular test question and then producing an outline for it.  For this first article, the course the question entails was a course I took in Fall 2015 called The Pedagogy of God I, and the outline for the question provided is the work of one of my classmates, Carole King.  Thanks Carole for doing what you did.  I am going to basically expand my own thoughts on the question based on the outline Carole has provided, and try to make it into a readable format.  

As I begin this project which also helps me prepare for the exam I have coming up, the issue the question is dealing with that I will expand upon here is in three initial parts.   Part I of the question is broken down even further into three parts.  So, to begin, I want to talk about the significance of what is called the Pedagogy of God, as well as the interconnected significance of the spiritual life of a catechist and how methodology in catechesis prompts a call to conversion on the part of those who are the recipients of the catechesis.

I guess the best place to begin is to explain what the terminology pedagogy of God is, and the literal Greek translation of the word "pedagogy" is leading the child to.  In catechesis, it appropriates the classic Greek understanding of the root term, paideia, in that it incorporates both the aim as well as the process of education (Petroc Willey, "An Original Pedagogy for Catechesis," in Farey, Linnig, and Paruch, eds. The Pedagogy of God. Steubenville, OH:  Emmaus Road, 2011. p. 17).  It is meant to be an education of the whole person, and a full immersion in the "school of faith."  The process aspect of this is by the gradual divine revelation of the Kerygma throughout salvation history, and as Gianna Gobbi and Rebecca Rojcewicz note in their book Listening to God with Children (Loveland, OH:  Treehaus Communications, 2000) on page 70,  the process is described metaphorically as a building being constructed floor-by-floor - each preceding floor forms the foundation of the next.  This naturally would warrant a solid foundation to build upon.  Additionally, we are reminded in the National Directory on Catechesis that this work of Revelation is a common work of all three persons of the Trinity (NDC 28) - the Father gives revelation of Himself in creation, the Holy Spirit unfolds the divine plan of salvation (the Kerygma) within the environs of the Church, and Jesus the Son continues this divine pedagogy through words, deeds, signs and wonders, and in relationship with His disciples.  It is then back to the Holy Spirit, who animates the Church and directs her mission.  As that happens, the Church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit continues God's own methodology in a living catechesis.  This is made evident in particular via a quote of St. Jerome in this week's catechism class I taught to my sixth-graders, in that "We must translate the words of the Scriptures into deeds, and instead of speaking saintly words, we must act them."  That is why studying the lives of holy people, both in Scripture and in the Church, aids in this pedagogical process as well.  God reveals in proper times as people are ready to receive, and a catechesis engages the whole person in the process as well.  That is one reason why as well certain truths in Scripture that may have baffled original hearers make perfect sense to us today.  Pedagogy is not just proclamation though, in that it must be modeled.  Ultimately, the modeling of this pedagogy should point its recipients back to to the Cross and the Paschal Mystery, as all doctrine leads to Christ at its center.

This modeling aspect of catechesis means that the catechist must have an active and vibrant spiritual life.  It doesn't mean the catechist is perfect by any means, but that they embody a deep spirituality and live out what they claim to believe - in other words, a catechist "practices what they preach."  This naturally entails a life of spiritual discipline - a structured prayer regimen is important for the catechist, as well as active participation on the part of the catechist in the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church.  The responsibility of the catechetical vocation includes a call to sanctity and an active rather than a passive spirituality.  This makes the catechetical mission and our communion with God as catechists inseparable.  The life and teaching of the catechist is directed toward two things.  First is the concept of metanoia, meaning an inner transformation of the heart and mind.  Second, it involves kenosis, meaning the submission of one's will to the will of God.  This latter aspect is embodied in the Our Father as well, which Guardini identified the petition "Thy will be done" as being the gateway petition to the entire prayer.  Both of these together - submission of one's own will and inner transformation - are part of an ongoing conversion process.  They are to be nurtured in both the catechist as well as those receiving catechesis.  If a catechist is doing this, it means they should then teach in a way that the accessible and unfathomable love of God is made visible to those receiving it.  In modeling this, the catechist then becomes a de facto mentor in Christian life for those they teach,

This leads to the whole topic of conversion - what is it??   Is conversion lifelong, or is it a one-time process.  Having grown up as I did in an Evangelical Protestant background, there was often talk about how one "gets saved."  In order to do this, one must initially "receive Jesus into their heart," and to be honest the language in both situations made no sense.  It also seems that in some quarters of the Evangelical Protestant community, it is considered a cop-out for hating someone if you just make salvation an arbitrary thing that can be bestowed or revoked by any other professing Christian who either likes or hates you.  There is a problem with this, because the person who engages in this sets themselves up as a sort of "arbiter of salvation," and in essence claims authority that can only be given to bishops in the Church by the Holy Spirit, who is the real determinant in whether one has salvation or not.  The Catholic understanding of this, however, is quite different.  Conversion is seen as having two "moments" - the first is the moment of initial conversion, where one consciously commits to follow Christ and His teachings, while the other is an ongoing lifelong conversion, which our Eastern Orthodox brethren call as process Theosis, and some Pentecostal folks would call sanctification.  It is this very thing that some writers like John Wesley addressed when they taught extensively on the subject of "Christian perfection," and it means that there is also a spiritual battle taking place - our new life in Christ contends with the aspect of our nature called concupiscence, which means that because of the Fall, we have a propensity toward sinful behavior.  It is a daily battle that many Church Fathers instructed us on concerning, and to some degree we all face it.  That is why as part of this ongoing lifelong conversion the aforementioned concepts of metanoia and kenosis are important, and why the petition "Thy will be done" is also the pivotal component in the Our Father Jesus taught us to pray.  In reality, this ongoing formation that nurtures an attitude of ongoing conversion should begin in the family structure and the home, but at times the family may not be as equipped as they should be to handle the full responsibility.  That is then where the role of the catechist comes in - the catechist takes up the slack where a family might be deficient, and in essence "fills in the gaps" that the recipient needs.  That in essence would describe the process of catechesis.

The second part of this is the methodology of catechesis, which is as important as the process.  There is no set formula for methodology, as the General Directory of Catechesis reminds us that the Church has "no particular method nor any singular method," because "she discerns contemporary methods in light of the pedagogy of God and uses with liberty 'everything that is true, everything that is noble, everything that is good and pure, everything that we love and honor, and everything that can be thought virtuous or worthy of praise (Phillipians 4:8)" (GDC 148).  If it isn't contrary to the Gospel and these methods are placed at the Church's service, then it can be utilized.  It affirms that the "variety of methods is a sign of life and richness."  What this means is that the personhood of the catechist as well as those being catechized are both valuable, and that God has created each unique individual with their own gifts and callings which contribute to the whole Church (Romans 12:4-5).  This therefore relates content to methodology in this way - the content is solid and unchanging, but the methods of communicating it are adaptable to the particular situation.  As the General Directory for Catechesis notes, the role of grace cannot be undervalued, in that grace aids in the communication of the faith, as well as leading the catechized to an encounter with the Gospel, and it does so by relating to the experience of the person receiving it (GDC 150).  The two methods of note that the GDC elaborates are the inductive method, which entails a transmission of facts and what they mean in relation to divine Revelation.  This methodology is also described as kerygmatic (relating to the story of salvation) and descending (meaning that the general proclamation of faith is applied to individual life).  Another method is deductive, which explains and describes facts by beginning with their causes - the deductive method is also described as existential, which enlightens human problems with the Word of God, and ascending, meaning that the human condition and individual experience leads on to Revelation.  The deductive synthesis, as the GDC points out, has full value only when the inductive process is completed (GDC 150).

Methodology also has a number of elements of its own too, among which are human experience, the memorization of key concepts, discipleship, the role of the catechist (in every phase of the catechetical process - GDC 156), the community (meaning here the greater Church, primarily as a source of catechesis - GDC 158), various groups (I would say here apostolates and organizations such as the Knights of Columbus or the Legion of Mary, among others - the Eucharistic community though is the extended expression of these groups and their fullest manifestation - GDC 159), the family (NDC 29d), as well as the active participation of the catechized (in complete harmony of course with the economy of Revelation and salvation - GDC 157), and social communication (technology can be an important asset if it is used properly and in service of the Church's mission - GDC 160-162).  This naturally means methodology is all-inclusive, and it both respects the dignity of personhood while at the same time embracing the available contemporary means to aid in thorough catechesis while at the same time not giving into contemporary values necessarily - it is one thing to use available tools, but not irresponsibly or in a way that counters the Church's mission and teaching.

The next area to look at is understanding why it is important to orient catechesis toward a liturgical encounter with God, and how good and sound catechesis benefits for and from the celebration of liturgy.   First of all, liturgy is understood as the place of dialogue between God and humanity.  The word "liturgy" is a synthesis of two Greek words, laos meaning "people" and ergon meaning "work." While a traditional translation of these terms make liturgy "a work of or from the people," a recent piece I read recently said we may have gotten that translation wrong by using the wrong Greek article.  Instead, the translation should be "a work for the people," which would explain why the priest has a pivotal role.  The priest acts on behalf of the people in order to make that connection between God and man which culminates in the Eucharistic meal, and although there is an "of the people" element to it in that the elements are offered as well as tithes, etc., the primary liturgical function is that it is offered on behalf of the faithful.   As such, liturgy is the official worship of the Church, and it calls us as the people of God to participate in the work of God.  At its center, and indeed the center of all Christian life, is the Eucharist.  The liturgy represents a model for catechesis then in that every form of catechesis therefore should have as its primary source the Word of God as mediated through Scripture and Tradition and interpreted by the Magisterium.  This means that Christ, rather than our own whims and fancies, becomes the center of all teaching, and all teaching both radiates from and leads back to Christ.  And, that is true pedagogy - leading the child (catechized) to Christ through His Word and the sacramental/liturgical life of the Church.

Like any other healthy body, the Body of Christ - all Christians - are nourished properly.  The proper nourishment of the Christian is with Christ's Body and Blood (the Eucharist) in worship, the Word as "food" in personal study and devotion, and then the "sending forth" of each Christian to proclaim His message of salvation to the world.  This then connects catechesis (nourishing with the written Logos, the Word of God) to liturgy (nourishment of the living Logos, the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist).  Catechesis precedes liturgical participation, but at the same time proceeds from it.  The primary objective of catechesis is to prepare the catechized for the liturgy, as the liturgy transforms the soul through authentic worship, and thus begins the "ongoing conversion" of conformng the person to Christ.  The foundation of liturgical/sacramental life is liturgical celebration, as it is the lifeblood of the Christian. Therefore, good catechesis should be formational in the sense that it prepares the person for a total transformation through a living encounter with Jesus Christ, which at its pinnacle is the reception of the Eucharist, His Body and Blood.   This means the liturgy is therefore the summit toward which all activity of the Church - catechesis included! - is directed.  It is also the font from which the power of God flows.  The primary role of the catechist in this is to help the student understand the liturgy as a supernatural encounter with the divine - Dr. Scott Hahn, in his 2001 text The Lamb's Supper, ties the Book of Revelation into the Mass in that regard, noting that the Mass is a sort of "Second Coming" in itself.  It indeed is, because what happens in the Mass transcends time and space as we understand it.  The objective of the catechist is communicate that to their students.  And, like Scripture, the Person of Christ, etc., the sacraments and sacramental celebrations are both human and divine, natural and supernatural - the Mass mirrors Jesus in that regard.  It is also important for the catechist to communicate the catechetical dimension to liturgy itself - much of the Mass is taken right from the pages of Scripture, and helping the catechized understand that aids in their formation.  So, in conclusion here, liturgy is the work of God for the people of God, and the participation of the people of God in the work of God. Sacramental awareness is therefore of utmost importance, and understanding the supernatural dimension of the liturgical celebration helps one actually and fully participate in it. The natural senses, therefore, are called to a supernatural plane, and that puts those of us participating in this in full participation also in the Person and work of Christ.   Our response, therefore, is that we offer ourselves back to God in the liturgy, giving whole self in exchange of life and love.  A sound catechesis then prepares one for this full participation, availing then the saving work of God through Christ and by the Holy Spirit to the participant.  Ultimately then, it conforms our lives to that of Christ.

A third area of discussion involves the effective catechetical methodology that is kerygmatic, intellectually engaging, employs the memory, and interprets faith and life.  To begin, there is kerygmatic teaching, which promotes the full objective of catechesis, which is Christocentricity. In 1936, a liturgist and catechetical scholar by the name of Josef Jungmann (1889-1975) wrote a memorable volume called Good News and Our Proclamation of the Faith.  At the time Jungmann authored this seminal work, it happened within the context of a movement aimed at renewing insufficient catechetical methodologies.  Jungman rightly believed that the radical secularization of his time of society and families alike necessitated a more dynamic proposal of the Christian message, and to drive his point home, he had two issues with the catechesis of the time:

1.  Its content did not closely resemble the joyful announcement of the Good News that resounded throughout the Gospels and in Apostolic times.  Often it was taught in a monotone, systematic way that didn't communicate the real significance of the message, in other words.

2.  The content of catechesis was not presented in an organic unity as a single message, as well as a call to a life of divine grace (it lacked an evangelistic emphasis and call to conversion, in other words).

Jungmann therefore proposed a restoration of the Kerygma to its full power and clarity, and within a single message - this was the prime task of a kerygmatic renewal in other words.  My own spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, proposed some years ago a similar thing - the proclamation from the pulpit and the celebration on the altar should be the same message.  I would add to Fr. Eusebius's observation that this also extends to catechesis as well - what is taught in the classroom should be made alive in the liturgy.  Therefore, Jungmann proposed an image of how this could work.  He utilized the imagery of a wheel, with Jesus as the hub and the various doctrines of the faith radiating out like spokes from the hub.  A model like this would restore the importance of the Kerygma to all catechesis, making it the constant reference point of all Christian doctrine as well as making certain that doctrine and proclamation were never in conflict with each other.  An essential balance was then proposed by Jungmann's model.  And, as it relates to catechesis today, Jungmann's proposal creates some very important and fundamental things for the execution of sound catechesis.

One of the first fundamental methods that falls under this is memorization.  Without clear memory, faith and piety are not possible.  The "language of faith," and its secure grasp by the catechized, is the key to living the same faith (GDC 154).  When the memory is engaged with the Fidei Depositum, a path to holiness is blazed in the faith of the individual recipient. Along with memory though is repetition, which is integral to encourage memorization.  The more something is repeated, the more likely one will remember it.  Via the Magisterial documents (Vatican II Council encyclicals, etc.) the Church calls for a restoration of memorization into catechetical methodology.  However, this methodology must be balanced to affirm and speak to the dignity of the personhood of the recipient, which means that some people may have different ways of learning, and it is important to tap into what those are so that these important aspects of faith can be committed to memory better.  This therefore means that the memorization process should be introduced early into catechesis, continued gradually as the person is able to comprehend, and it also should be flexible and not slavish - not everyone learns things the same way, and part of what a catechist does is to tailor learning in such a way that everyone can benefit from it.  Therefore, what should be memorized?  For one thing, the words of Jesus - it is important to know such things as the parables, the Beatitudes, and basic teachings of Jesus in the Gospels.  That is one benefit to "red-letter" Bible translations, in that they readily highlight those areas so the reader can easily identify them.  Important Bible passages are also important to remember, and one thing I do in my own catechetical practice is to make sure my students learn such passages as Psalm 199:11, as well as II Timothy 2:15, John 3:16, and other pivotal passages.  As they grow and progress, they can learn more.  While not many people will be able to memorize Scripture quite like Dr. Jack van Impe, a Protestant (Baptist) evangelist known for his sharp recall of over 10,000 key Scripture passages (which earned him the name "The Walking Bible"), many should know enough basic and pivotal Scripture passages.  Another area of memorization centers around one of the "Four Pillars of Catechesis," the Creeds.  In particular, it is integral to faith to at least be able to know the Nicene and Apostle's Creeds, as those are most frequently utilized in liturgical celebrations - the longer and more complex Athanasian Creed is not necessarily a requirement for memorization, although there is benefit in doing so if one takes up the challenge.  Along with that is another "Pillar," the Ten Commandments - these embody the moral law of the Christian life, and are relevant in mainstream society as well as the Church.  The Ten Commandments are divided actually into two parts - approximately half of the Commandments deal with how we relate to God, while the other half deal with how we relate to each other.  Those come in handy when reading other Biblical books too, such as Ephesians, which has an underlying theme relative to the Decalogue.  Another area of memorization is liturgical texts - by this, we are talking about missals, prayerbooks, etc.  Knowing the Liturgy can also be an aid in learning Scripture, as the two go hand-in-hand.  Basic devotional practices, in particular essential prayers, are also an item of essential memorization.  Knowing basic prayers such as the Our Father, the Rosary devotions, and other such prayers that are frequently used in the Church are integral to liturgical participation.  For many of us, they will come naturally the longer and more faithful we attend Mass, as we also hear them over by repetition.  Finally, it is important to know and memorize key doctrinal ideas - for instance, what does the Church believe about Christ, the Trinity, heaven, hell, etc.?  You will notice that all of these things kind of overlap - for instance, if you know the Creeds, you will know the doctrines, and if you know Scripture, you will know the Our Father, Ten Commandments, etc.  The overlap of all these things also provides the necessary repetition for effective memorization, and should be encouraged as well.

Essentially, that is in a nutshell what I was expected to learn from this particular course, and it is valuable information, especially now that I am a catechist myself.  As we go through the rest of these questions one by one each week, I am also hoping to see the way they all tie together too, because at the root of learning all of this is the impetus for my own vocation - doctrine, philosophy, catechetical content and methods, sacraments, and other things all come together to complete the well-rounded education one should have when mentoring and discipling others.  And, at the root of it all is divine calling - it is a sacrifice to learn all of this, but in the end its rewards are great.  So, I will see you next time then.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Weeds in the Garden - a Reflection Upon Matthew 13:24-30

Yesterday we attended Mass at St. Joseph Parish here in Hagerstown, MD.   The homily, which was an excellent message brought by Polish-born priest Fr. Tadeusz Mich, centered upon Jesus's parable in Matthew's Gospel about the wheat and tares.  While listening to Fr. Mich's homily, my own wheels got to turning a little, and what I realized is that there are many different things one can draw out of this well-known parable that may not have been thought of before, and that is why I wanted to share with you today my reflections on this passage.

The pedagogy Jesus used with His disciples was this whole parable device, and He also contextualized it by using something many of His hearers would be familiar with.  Palestine at the time of Jesus was a largely agrarian society, and although it was part of the Roman Empire, agriculture was the primary economic base.  Everyone, even many city-dwellers of the time, relied on agriculture for their living, so it was something Jesus used to teach the greater message of His kingdom as well.  Many of the parables have this imagery - sheep, goats, grain, seed, etc.   This particular passage is no different in that Jesus uses the same imagery to communicate a greater truth to those He taught.  However, though the agrarian symbolism is simple and may even be lost on today's technology-obsessed culture, it is still rich with meaning.  Over the years I personally have read this passage many times, and I have heard sermons, Sunday School lessons, and group Bible studies focus a lot on it as well.  But, it was only yesterday that I got some of the inspiration I am about to share, and to be honest, it actually has little to do with Fr. Mich's homily, although that is really what inspired my own reflections here.

First of all, for many of us in modern times, you may be asking the question - what on earth is a tare??  To simply put it, a tare is a type of weed, but more specifically it is also a species.  The specific type of plant that many scholars agree this refers to is the Lolium Temulentum, also known as the darnel/poison darnel or cockle.  It is found all around the globe, and is particularly bothersome for wheat farmers - it looks exactly like wheat, as a matter of fact, until it matures.  True wheat has a brown ear, whereas this tare has a black one, and that is the only way it can be differentiated.  There is also a chemical in the tare plant that, if consumed, can cause a serious intoxicating effect which can be fatal even to people, hence its problem - this is the case in particular if the tare plant in question is infected by a fungus called an endophyte,  The dangerous risk of the tare made it also taint wheat harvests where it was allowed to proliferate, and that could render both health and economic catastrophe upon a society (information taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lolium_temulentum - accessed 24 July 2017).   Jesus would have known about this as well, and His wisdom expressed that just like these tares can destroy a wheat field, the wrong people who are in the Church can also destroy it likewise.  This is the classic and very appropriate lesson that one can take from this parable, but if you take the time to dig deeper, there are other applications as well.

The application I want to talk about now has to do with something that clicked within me as I was listening to Fr. Mich's homily yesterday, and it is something I had never thought of before and many people reading this would never have either.  Growing up as I did in West Virginia, and also very poor, I learned early about wildcrafting and foraging.  What I learned is that oftentimes many things that most people would dismiss as "weeds" may actually have nutritional or medicinal value, and therefore I learned the value of harvesting wild plants for food.  This also led me to understand that there are actually three classifications of weeds that grow in lawns and gardens:

1.  Weeds which are simply nuisance but otherwise harmless - These include some things we see in our yards which are a pain in the butt to get rid of, such as crabgrass.  Crabgrass is not edible, but it also is not harmful or toxic.

2.  Weeds which are a nuisance and can be harmful - These are things, such as varieties of toadstool, that if consumed by animals or people can kill.  If a person has small children or pets they let outside frequently, these plants must not be accessible to them.

3.   Weeds that have intrinsic nutritional value or can be healing - These are plants, such as dandelions, puffball mushrooms, and plantains (not the green banana-looking fruits that are part of Hispanic cuisine, but a small ground plant with large leaves common in many yards in the northeast) are actually edible and may even have nutritional benefits.  

If I were to take my experience with wildcrafting and apply it to the parable, something very interesting comes to light.  While weeds of any sort can be pesky and even dangerous, not all weeds are, and some can be utilized in other ways.   There are those people in our churches - "tares" - who may not have committed to the faith yet, but they are open, and instead of being like crabgrass they actually could benefit the community if they were evangelized properly.  That illustrates the salvation of Jesus very concisely - a weed that can be redeemed and turned into something good.  In the strictest sense, what this would mean is that not everyone in the harvest may be "wheat" - some may be dandelions, some wild onions, some plantains, but each has value to harvest.  Jesus can do that with anyone, and that is what supernatural grace is all about - taking something of nature, and then healing, elevating, and perfecting it to something good.  Jesus did die for all - including the "weeds" - and therefore all He waits for is for us to accept what He has extended to us as a free gift.  If a weed does that, it can be transformed from a dangerous tare to a delicious plate of dandelion greens.  This, therefore, is the insight I gained from this passage.

Now, I know I may have done quite a bit of eisegesis on this passage, but that is OK - in the context of the message, it actually works, and it also is a beautiful illustration of how Christ loves all and can save anyone.  A "redeemed weed" is of more value to him than a blighted "wheat," as it must be remembered that wheat or other grain that has blight or disease is not fit for consumption either and has to be destroyed.  In the Church today, there are cases of blight and smut over many of the people who sit in pews - an otherwise faithful churchgoer may, for instance, have involvement in a Masonic lodge, which is a great risk to one's salvation in itself.  Masonry is one of those "blights."  Others may have issues with listening to or believing heresy - many professing Christians, for instance, are caught up in the lie of evolution, and actually believe that they evolved over billions of years from goo, to the zoo, to the day of me and you.  This too is a type of blight.  To go back to my West Virginia roots, let's talk about corn a little.  In the summers, it was a great thing to harvest and roast fresh corn, and part of the fun of doing that was husking the corn.  Sometimes, though, when you would be husking an ear of corn, you would see a silverish-grey mass on the ear which would be a type of fungus we called smut.  You had two options with the discovery of smut - either you could discard the whole ear of corn, or you would trim away the bad parts of the ear infected with the smut and salvage the rest.  God has to do that with us on occasion too, doesn't he?  We accumulate bad habits and behavior which acts like a type of "smut" on our spirits, and the Holy Spirit by sanctifying grace has to remove that junk.  What is salvaged may be less, but it is redeemable.   Even some vices such as pornography and filthy language are called "smut" in everyday slang, which also goes back to this too.  We must always "weed our garden" to clean out impurities within ourselves as the result of supernatural grace working in us through the Holy Spirit, and in reality that was the angle Fr. Mich's homily went with yesterday.  As I have said, this passage truly has a lot of meaning on many levels, and if you can get a fresh inspiration from it like this, then it shows that you have a sincere love for the things of God and He can show you His truth.

That was really the major insight I wanted to make today on this passage, although many others are equally applicable - it can also be read and understood as apostasy in the Church as a whole, or it can even be on a personal level in that "tares" often grow in our own spiritual life that we need to remove by prayer and repentance.  All of these interpretations are valid and true at the same time.  And, it also goes to prove that the wisdom Jesus gave to those who had the privilege of hearing Him in person was so rich and insightful that it still touches people centuries after the actual parable was told itself.  To summarize it all like this however, a "tare" is anything that deters the Church or its members from the central mission of our faith, which is the path to Jesus Himself through the Cross.  All things point to Jesus, and He is to be the center of all our doctrine, all of our spiritual expression, and even of our very lives as Christians.  Anything that inhibits that Christocentric focus is indeed a tare, and it can cause an idolatry that will have as its end for us destruction.  May we always "weed our gardens" for sure, but in our churches, let us also remember that what may be seen as a "weed" because it doesn't look like "wheat" may be something valuable - this is why we extend Christ's love and grace to all who enter His house, but we also must make sure they know that the salvation He offers is only found in seeking Him above all else.  Take care until next time.  


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review of Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, "Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest"


Barbara Rainey and Susan Yates, Barbara and Susan's Guide to the Empty Nest.  Bloomington, MN:  Bethany House, 2017.

The "Empty Nest Syndrome" - many get it, and many also have difficulties dealing with it.  After having a child in the house for 18-plus years, it is quite an adjustment when one's son or daughter launches out into the big, bad, and unknown world.  Parents naturally worry about their kids, as well as missing their presence around the house.  This book, which I received as a review copy from the publisher, is a little different than the more weighty theological topics I normally review, but it is nonetheless an essential topic to address.  As is my practice when doing a review like this, I want to first know a little something about the authors as well as some of the sources they used to research their own material, so we'll start there.

Barbara Rainey, the first co-author of the book, was a founder along with her husband Dennis of a ministry called FamilyLife, which is a ministry that deals with deepening the marriage relationship. One of the ways they carry out their vocation in this ministry is with something called Weekends to Remember, a program in which retreats are provided for couples to enrich their own marriage relationships.   They do have a website (http://www.familylife.com) that provides more detailed information about what they do.  The other co-author, Susan Yates, is a popular Evangelical Christian speaker at marriage and parenting conferences and also has authored several other books.  She likewise has her own website (http://www.susanalexanderyates.com) that provides more information on what she does.  On the outset, these ladies provide a valuable service, as catechesis on the importance of the marriage covenant is a vital thing not only for the Evangelical audiences their material is geared to, but also to traditionalist and conservative Catholic audiences as well that share many of the same convictions.  However, the "proof in the pudding" is what sources they used for their writing, and I want to examine that next before I deal with the content of the book itself.

In looking at the "Notes" section in the back of the book, it appears that the authors use pretty standard marriage and family resources, both from psychological and from standard Evangelical Christian sources, which for me makes them pretty "safe."  It is important to examine the material that an author (even Christian authors) draws from these days, as unfortunately there are a lot of things out there that can be deceptive,  However, I do not see anything questionable in their source material, so it is now time to look at the book itself.

The chapters of the book deal with some practical issues that many people at some point face in regards to family relationships, and they relate specifically to the "empty nest" situation - the authors include chapters on loneliness, disappointment, how to relate to one's spouse, how to relate to adult children after they leave home and start families of their own, and how to deal with extended families, as well as a chapter I want to look at in more detail here shortly entitled "What Do I Do With Me?"  Other chapters in the second section deal with the reality of "moving forward," which entails chapters on learning how to "take a break," "celebrate," discovering new purpose in life, and finding ways to impact the world around oneself.  A series of inventories and exercises are also provided in the appendices which are designed to help the reader implement the information given in such a way as to make their own life more meaningful.  It is obvious that this book is geared toward a female audience, which makes it somewhat weird for me reading it, but at the same time there are some general things that can apply to either men or women, and therefore there are valuable and practical insights that can be taken away from the book by anyone who reads it.  There are a couple of chapters I want to focus more on now, and at this point I will begin to examine in detail two chapters of the book that piqued my own interest.

The first chapter I want to examine more closely is Chapter 8, which is entitled "What Do I Do With Me?"  The chapter begins on page 131, and it opens with a series of interesting questions - "What have I become? Does anyone need me? What is my purpose now that my kids are gone? How do I know what to do next? What am I good at? Where do I start?"   The author talks about dealing with a post-40ish "identity milestone," to use her term,  and the scenario is when the initial shock of the "empty nest" hits a person.  At that point, one is faced with identity questions about oneself, and the questions posed at the beginning of the chapter have a lot to do with this.  One faces a feeling of being lost, wandering, and it is a normative and healthy reaction.  One statement that stands out in regard to the female audience this book is addressing is on page 132 - "We were made for more than motherhood."  I could say, as a man, that the same is also true - men are more than fathers.  Another very vital point at the end of the same page is the importance of defining our identity in relation to God and His purposes for one's life, and that He is in control of our destiny.  Although this can be viewed by some as an Evangelical fix-all answer, it nonetheless is a truth - the challenge for the reader is to come to terms with it and begin to utilize it.  The authors themselves rightly acknowledge on page 133 that the task of keeping our "affections" aligned properly with God's will is a difficult task, and you don't necessarily have to be a mother of adult children to understand that.  Each of the authors then gives a personal testimony on pages 134-136 of their own struggles, and this is actually a masterful device in that it shows the reader (especially a reader who may be dealing with a similar situation) that these are not mere Evangelical platitudes, but indeed the authors themselves faced these issues as well.  It is always good when a writer can open up with their own experience to connect to the reader, in that it shows the reader that someone else has blazed the "unknown trail" already, and it gives a path in the wilderness so to speak.  That is an endearing strength of a book like this also.  On pages 136 through 138, the authors have a subsection of the chapter entitled "Second Chances."  In this section, what I got out of it personally is that oftentimes we are given a "second chance" to detour back to the original path we should have been on in the first place, and the "empty nest" period is a good time to seek that road out.  It is a veering off the original course that makes the questions that were stated at the beginning of the chapter relevant to us as individuals, and this time is a perfect season to explore those questions and take them to heart.  Once we are on the path, as noted on page 138, the answers reveal themselves to us, but they also have a starting place, and that is God.  This is pretty common-sense stuff which anyone can relate to, although often it sounds more easy in retrospection than it does at the time the situation is being faced.  At the end of the chapter, a section encouraging prayer for direction is provided, including sample prayers that can be prayed as well as guidelines for writing one's own prayer,  At the end of the chapter, a form is also provided for the reader to write out their own story.  Again, this is very practical material, and it also is challenging.  Sometimes the best and most effective advice comes from someone who can write from practical experience rather than the extensive tomes of verbose theologians and Bible scholars, and this book is just that - a practical series of guidelines of two ladies who themselves have experienced what they talk about.

I now want to deal more in-depth with Chapter 12, which is entitled "Changing Your World," and begins on page 199.  "Changing the world" is a broad term which can have a lot of meanings, and the essence of reading this chapter is to ascertain what the authors are talking about.  On page 200, an important point is made when the authors affirm that changing the world doesn't necessarily entail traveling the world.  Excellent point to start, but what do they mean by all that?  The authors give a variety of things - very service-oriented vocations such as fostering children, caring for the elderly, etc. - as one interpretation of what it means to "change the world."  This hearkens back to the questions in Chapter 8, in that God's will and direction is the obvious starting place for one's own quest to "change the world."  If I were to add anything personally to this chapter, I think it would be important to mention that the key to "changing the world" on a personal level is assessment of what one has to work with.  Many of us, of course, have gifts, talents, and skills that provide the raw material of some great endeavor, but we also need to learn how to refine and use those too.  I don't think the authors would have an argument with that idea as well, but maybe they were under the assumption that this aspect was implied - in the case of my reading of the text, it certainly was.  I was also drawn to the end of the chapter as well, beginning on page 123 with a section entitled "Take the Next Step."  These sections seem to be found at the end of many of the chapters, and in essence the authors seem to be providing a step-by-step process for the reader to implement what they are writing about.  The idea of a personal mission statement is a good one actually, and it is also challenging - fortunately, the authors provide a good template based on material from Chapter 11 to work with, and here is where they deal with personal application of assessing one's assets, documenting them, and then determine where using them would be most worth the investment of time and energy.  A series of traits and themes worth incorporating into such a statement are also included - attitude, service of others, and a section called "Finishing Well" which focuses on proper stewardship of health, vibrancy, being well-read, and both living and dying with dignity ("living well" and "dying well").  From a Catholic perspective, it is an excellent incorporation of eschatological emphasis on a personal level.  Again, this doesn't have to be just utilized by female "empty nesters" either, as anyone in any situation (I would add even negative situations, such as losing a job or having one's spouse pass away) can do something with this material, as it is actually some excellent guidance.  If I were to have added one thing though, I would also recommend journaling, as you can release so much and also sort out a lot of issues by doing that as well.

Although it could be argued that the "self-help" aspect of this book makes it one among many that one can buy for a dime a dozen at any Goodwill store, it is also a very practical and Christian-based program for those going through similar situations, and thus it can be a valuable resource.  It also may prove valuable to Christian counselors and "life coaches" as well, not to mention it can be a handy resource for the clergy.  Personal experience is sometimes a master teacher, and the ladies who authored this book exemplify it well.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Anglican Catechesis - Addressing and Correcting Deficiencies


For the past four years, I have been pursuing a Master's degree in Catechetics at Franciscan University of Steubenville, and in the course of those studies I have learned a lot. However, some of what I have learned has also been disturbing when I look at my own church, which is Anglican - catechesis is undiscovered territory for many Anglican parishes in our tradition, and it is a scary thing when one really thinks about it. I want to briefly deal with this situation here, and share some observations.

If one looks at traditional Anglican catechesis, it is largely confined to about four pages in the back of the Book of Common Prayer (if you are following this, it is on pages 577-583). As a result, there are a lot of faithful attenders in our Masses who are deficient in even basic doctrine, and this may have contributed to the decline as well of the Episcopal Church, the mainline body which many traditional Anglicans trace their roots back to (most to a schism that happened in 1977 in St. Louis, when my own communion, the Anglican Catholic Church, and many others were formed and constituted what is called the "Continuing Anglican" movement). A lack of solid catechesis can be detrimental to a Church, and although many will affirm orthodoxy, many don't know what they are affirming. By contrast, the Roman Catholics have the 1500+ page Catechism of the Catholic Church, which is so thorough and even cross-referenced that it would be impossible not to understand it. The Eastern Churches likewise have extensive catechisms, notably one called The Rudder, and both the Roman and Eastern Churches have strict procedures for training their catechists to teach effectively. A guiding document in the Roman Church for this is what is known as the General Directory for Catechesis, which I have almost had to memorize during my graduate program at Steubenville, and it is a valuable resource. One statement from the General Directory (hereafter called GDC) that is very applicable to the situation of catechesis in our traditional Anglican churches is this - in GDC 2, this paragraph is noted:

The course of catechesis during this same period has been characterized everywhere by generous dedication, worthy initiatives and by positive results for the education and growth in the faith of children, young people and adults. At the same time, however, there have been crises, doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis which have often impoverished its quality.
(http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cclergy/documents/rc_con_ccatheduc_doc_17041998_directory-for-catechesis_en.html - accessed 6/12/2017)

Note the last sentence in that paragraph - doctrinal inadequacies, influences from the evolution of global culture, and ecclesial questions derived from outside the field of catechesis that have impoverished its quality. Secularization and the via moderna have had their influence, even on die-hard traditionalists at times, but what have been some things that have affected the quality of traditional Anglican catechesis in a negative way? I want to note a few of those here:

1. Lack of adequate instructional time - the average parish in one of our dioceses limits Sunday School instruction, Bible study, and catechesis to a mere 30 minutes before or after Mass, and that is insufficient to even cover the material properly.

2. A general indifference on the part of parishioners - many Anglican parishioners are basically good people, and they display a generosity that exemplifies Christian charity beautifully. However, when it comes to commitment to Bible study or catechesis (especially for adults), many of the people who should be there are not, and that can be very discouraging for a priest or a catechist.

3. Influences of Freemasonry and other outside things - an alarming number of Anglicans are involved in Masonic lodges, they consult horoscopes, and many also get faulty theology from sources like the History Channel. Although again I must stress that personally many of these people are basically decent individuals and do these things in ignorance, the point is that if they had proper catechesis to begin with, they wouldn't be allowing these things to influence them. Many of our bishops know the dangers of Freemasonry, and they have a sort of "discourage but tolerate" position, which actually I cannot fault them for - some of this stuff is so deeply embedded in the older generations that it would be impossible to exorcise it, so I believe the bishops in their wisdom are just letting those influences sort of die off. However, we must properly catechize the younger generation.

4. General inconsistency on rubrics, etc. - Traditional Anglicans (especially vestry members, older lay readers, and sacristans) are often sticklers for getting everything "just right" during our Masses, and they can be super-critical and unforgiving to someone "learning the ropes." I have dealt with more than my fair share of those, and honestly, they are a royal pain in the keister! The inconsistency though with many of these same individuals lies in the way they are casual about some things they should be taking seriously, such as correct pronunciation of the names and words in the Epistle readings on Sundays - I cringe every time I hear a lay reader butcher even the simplest of Biblical words, but it happens all too frequently. Part of proper catechesis is educating about reverence for God's Holy Word, which is infallible, inerrant, and the record of the divine kerygma. We should, as lay readers, take pride in our task of reading the Holy Word of God, and do so with reverence and try to read it properly! That is why another important aspect of catechesis is also special classes for lay readers, acolytes, sacristans, and others who participate in the Mass. It would save a lot of problems at the Mass itself.

It is also worth noting that as Anglicans, we are not exclusive - we are first Catholic rather than merely "Anglican," and our liturgy, theology, and spirituality need to be defined in the context of the wider Church as a whole. The late Fr. Louis Tarsitano, in his pioneering catechetical text An Outline of the Anglican Life (Houston: Classical Anglican Press, 1994) states "Anglicanism is not a pastiche of private or borrowed customs," and "The Anglican Church does not own the middle way (Via Media - my add) to Christ; but we maintain it for his honor and for the sake of salvation." (Tarsitano, p. 1). Our own Archbishop Haverland likewise says that "Anglican Catholics, I think, are right not to explain the unity of the Church in a manner that excludes either the Romans or Easterners. How the essential unity of the Church is maintained despite apparent disunity is a mystery and mercy of God." (Mark Haverland, Anglican Catholic Faith and Practice. Athens, GA: Anglican Parishes Association, 2011. p. 140). Actually Aquinas explained this "unity in disunity" perfectly when he emphasizes the reality of supernatural grace in the Summa and other texts. In essence, I would personally agree with the Roman Catholic Cardinal Christophe Schonborn, whose notable phrase "Finis ominum Ecclesia (The Church is the goal of all things)," sums up the role of the Church (the subject of a future article, and also one of my comprehensive exam questions for my Master's program!) - within the Church is the fullness of salvation, and since the Church is the custodian of that precious gift, it's custodians must take that mandate seriously in both evangelization and catechesis (which do go hand-in-hand). In Cardinal Schonborn's book, Loving the Church (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1998), he makes the case for this very thing when he expounds upon the kerygma as being culminated in the Church (more on that in another article as well) but also specifically in the person of Christ. He describes the Church specifically as the "inner ground" of God's plan of creation (Schonborn, p. 21). This mystical communion encompasses all who are part of the Church, and that includes the Anglican Catholic tradition - we are part, but not all, in other words. The same applies to our Roman and Eastern brethren, as well in varying degrees to devout and faithful Protestants who are part of and participants in the whole Church by embracing orthodoxy. This higher but also inclusive view of the Church is the heart of Anglican understanding of ecclesiology. That being said, our catechesis needs to reflect that, and we can benefit greatly from the collective wisdom of the whole Church, which is one reason why I reference the GDC, a Roman Catholic document, here. There are three things of note that the GDC says therefore which should be the goal of catechesis, and this is where our discussion continues.

In GDC 27, the internal life of the Church and its dependence upon sound catechesis is discussed at length, and what it says is that certain enrichments will be evident, including the following:

1. Liturgical life properly and profoundly understood as the source and summit of ecclesial life.

2. A universal call to holiness and a greater commitment to mutual service and charity (meaning catholicity).

3. Sacred Scripture is savoured, reverenced, and meditated upon more intensely - especially by lay and clerical leaders!

4. The resulting spiritual renewal will intensify the evangelistic mission of the Church.

Aha! #4 affirms that proper catechesis will bear evangelistic fruit! They are intimately connected, in other words. This is integral to the life of the Church, as it is her means of procreation. That being said, we often lack at times in our Anglican parishes because while we have a commendable (albeit misguided!) commitment to doing things "the way we have always done them," at the same time there are some things that need to go - not liturgically or theologically, but rather attitude. The complacency of so many of our laity regarding discipleship - their Bibles gather dust while the coffeepots in the parish hall are always perculating....hmmm, better stop before a sacred cow becomes a casualty, right?? - is a scandal. We do so many other things so well - as mentioned, one of the strengths of our local parishes is generosity - Anglicans help each other when one experiences difficulty, and on that aspect of charity our people are the best. My wife and I owe much to the kindness and generosity of many of our faithful fellow parishioners, who have indeed been a tremendous blessing to us. Now, imagine if that charitable aspect of our faith were augmented with an equal love of Scripture and a hunger for learning the faith and also reaching out to others in evangelization - we would be truly the Church God intended. That is where proper catechesis needs to be taken more seriously. Another aspect of this as well is knowing why we pray and say things in our liturgy, as catechesis is based primarily on "Four Pillars," which are all incorporated into our traditional Anglican Mass - the Lord's Prayer, the Decalogue, the Creeds of the Church, and the Sacraments themselves. Ultimately, all four of those are what are called Christocentric - all of them point us to Jesus ultimately. A true catechetical program would be centered first and foremost around those four things, and every other aspect of study would incorporate those and point us back to their Source, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Thanks be to God for great instructors at Franciscan University who taught me the importance of this, and now it is time our Anglican tradition embraces them as well, as our whole reason for existence falls upon them, and ultimately Jesus Christ Himself.

The bottom line of an effective catechesis is to make our people come to love Jesus and know Him, and too many of our people don't - they "go through motions" and know all the correct rubrics, etc., but they don't know Him. A necessity for re-evangelization of our people is vital to our survival as a Church, and it starts with encouraging proper catechesis. Until we do, we face a crisis of faith - many will proclaim it, but many also won't truly have it within themselves. Religion and relationship are both integral to the Christian life, and in order to have them the mysteries of faith must be taught and also encouraged to be lived out. If we start doing that, we will be a force to be reckoned with as a communion. God bless until next time.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review of Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, "Answering the Toughest Questions About Heaven and Hell"


Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz, Answering the Toughest Questions About Heaven and Hell.  Minneapolis, MN:  Bethany House, 2017.

In studying fundamental theology, one of the main aspects is what is called Eschatology, meaning the study of the "Last Things."   Although much about this subject often emphasizes prophetic and futuristic events, that is only a small fraction of how the Church has historically taught on the subject, as what the Church understands as Eschatology can be condensed down to what is called "the Four Last Things" - death, judgment, heaven, and hell.  This particular book by Bickel and Jantz deals with the latter two, as anagogically they sum up the final destinations of all of us.  The book addresses some important questions, and thus is why I chose to review it.  However, again, I want to also look at who the authors are, as well as what source material they used, before delving into the content of the book itself.

Bruce Bickel is an attorney in Fresno, CA, and he has collaborated on other books with Stan Jantz, who in turn is a writer and speaker living in Orange County, CA, and he is the CEO of something called Conversantlife.com, which serves as sort of a forum for other writers on a variety of topics.  Together, according to that website, Bickel and Jantz have co-authored over 50 books.  A lot of background material is lacking on them when doing an online search, so this is essentially all I could find out about them. 

Regarding the source material they used for the book, I notice an odd mix of both standard Evangelical literature as well as some "Emerging Church" writers such as Douglas Moo, Rob Bell, Dallas Willard, and Scott McKnight.  Utilizing such source material regarding such a fundamental topic raises concerns, especially the references to Rob Bell who espouses some heretical universalist soteriology.  That is why I am also going to be focusing attention on a couple of chapters in particular.

Beginning with Chapter 1, the basic question of the existence of an afterlife is addressed.  On page 12, the authors affirm the basic Christian doctrine of life after death, which so far is good.  Further down the page, an important statement is made regarding fundamental eschatology - "Be it heaven or hell, Christians claim everybody's headed somewhere."   The authors then begin to tackle the question of if the Christian position is the only way to see a post-death future, and in subsequent pages they present a sort of brief overview of the positions of other religious traditions on that topic.  They correctly note that 99 percent of the world's population ascribe to some view on an afterlife, but they also say this doesn't solve the issue of whether it is a reality or not.   Of the world's major religions, the authors on pages 14-16 discuss the views of Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and Islam, and on pages 16-18 the perspective from science is addressed.  It must be noted here that neither of the authors would be what would be considered "Young-Earth" Creationists - their frequent references of Hugh Ross (a leading proponent of the "Old-Earth" view) permeate the discussion, as well as their stating of "millions of years" on page 13.  However, they do present an intriguing discussion of the scientific issue, and a few things are worth noting.   First, the demand for physical proof (empirical evidence) at times permeates man's desire for understanding if there is an afterlife, but one thing the authors lack in that discussion is the role of metaphysics - there are some things that are true but not tangible, in other words, and tangibility does not necessarily make a criteria for truth.  Beginning then on page 17 and going into page 18, the authors discuss first of all the relation of biology to the afterlife.  The authors admit at the end of the first paragraph in this section that self-awareness cannot be explained - emotions, feelings, and other aspects of personality, for instance, are not tangible, but they are real.  As they note in the second paragraph, the qualities of the mind and body are indeed different, and that death to the body might not necessarily mean death of the mind - this is both Aristotelian and Thomistic as far as conclusions go, and again without specifically saying it the authors are making a valid distinction between biology and metaphysical reality.  Quoting Dinesh D'Souza, they make an equally astute observation on page 18 as they affirm that consciousness indeed operates often outside the physical laws of nature (the realms of the metaphysical, in other words) and that consciousness is independent of the body - the intersection of the physical and metaphysical, the authors note on page 19, is teleology, which they define as the study of why things are.  The teleological argument discussed, as noted in the last sentence of the section on page 20, is that this doesn't establish scientific proof necessarily for an afterlife, but it opens the possibility.  To put it in philosophical terms, where physics leaves off, metaphysics fills in. However, in the next section discussing physics specifically, the authors note that there are now possible physical possibilities for life after death, including a multidimensional universe, and also the existence of multiverses (ala Michio Kaku?) and alternate universes, and although I would differ with them somewhat for even entertaining that, they make a good point on page 21 by noting that at times reality can be stranger than science fiction and more bizarre than the most creative of wild imaginations.  That means the possibility of a scientific basis for life after death (for more on that, I would recommend Frank Tipler's The Physics of Christianity). However, as noted on pages 21 and following, Christians (and indeed humanity in general) are people of the heart as well, and there are two observations the authors note that point to the reality of life after death.  One, on pages 21-23, is what they term "cultural obsession."   This has to do with man's obsession with finding his own immortality, and it has led to some extremes that have pushed us to seeking ways to cheat death - they note that medicine in general, age-defying products in particular, cosmetic (plastic) surgery, and an emphasis on the young at the expense of the old.  To this, I would also add more sinister movements of eugenics, transhumanism, and other attempts to purge humanity of apparent weakness in order to create a more perfect specimen of the species that would ensure some degree of immortality.  A desire to live forever is something that is inherent to human nature, as the authors accurately state on page 23, but the section lacks in that it doesn't deal with the root issue as found in Genesis 3 - why we lost our immortality in the first place.  Sin and death are consequences of the Fall, and man deteriorates and dies because sin and death came in at the Fall.  Having affinities with a more "Old-Earth" position however, the authors cannot in reality make the connection to reconcile that reality with their view, and that is where the book is weak on this topic.  The redemption though is in the following section, as the authors begin a sort of Bible study on the issue of life after death, and they conclude the chapter with an affirmation of the orthodox Christian position that life after death is a cosmic reality.  

The next chapter I want to look at a little more closely is Chapter 5, which deals with the question "Do all roads lead to heaven?"  The term "roads," as clarified by the authors on page 66, is synonymous in this context with other religious traditions besides Christianity, and it is an important topic to address.  On page 67, there is something I wanted to explore closely, in that there can be potential confusion on the part of the reader with where the authors stand on this subject.  The paragraph of focus opens with this statement - "In past generations, becoming a Christian was like joining an exclusive club.  Only those who believed in and followed the club rules could be members, and only the members (those who were 'saved') were going to heaven.  Unfortunately, this way of believing often led to a smugness on the part of the members."   Further in the next paragraph, it follows with this:  "Thankfully, such a distorted view of what it means to be a Christian - Tim Keller accurately calls it 'deadly triumphalism' - has fallen out of favor with Christians today."  There are many, many potential problems with these statements that need to be addressed.  First, let us look at who this Tim Keller guy is.  Tim Keller is described in a Wikipedia article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Keller_(pastor) - accessed 6/2/2017) as being a Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and apologist.  He also seems to be identified with the "Emerging Church" movement, and identifies his theology as not "conservative" or "Evangelical" but rather by the ambiguous moniker "orthodox" - however, what does he mean by "orthodox?"  Examining his theological position, he has a rather iconoclastic view of "traditional religion," saying that salvation is substitutionary, and he also is quite ambiguous regarding the Creation/evolution discussion.  Although also pro-traditional marriage and pro-life, he also is a cultural conformist in many areas, which may be problematic for his more traditional positions.   His soteriology is eerily similar to "Emerging Church" gurus Rob Bell and Brian McLaren in that he dismisses the traditional view of salvation (based on passages such as John 14:6 and Romans 5) in favor of a broader approach.  The authors therefore would be at odds with a more sacramental theological position that an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist like myself would hold, in that the inerrant truths of Scripture point all to Christ, but it is also up to the individual to accept or reject Christ, as well as accepting the consequences of said choice.   Rather than being Time Keller's "deadly triumphalism," this is the prevalent view of the Church as taught throughout the centuries, and the authors and Keller had best exercise caution at thinking they know more than Jesus, the Apostles, and the many great Fathers and Doctors of the Church through the ages.  A further red flag pops up on pages 67-68, as the authors reference a heretical text by Rob Bell entitled Love Wins that promotes universalism - although the authors acknowledge problems with Bell's text on page 68, it is still problematic that they are still noting in a negative light the idea of exclusivity, and more clarification is needed.  While false triumphalism is indeed an error as well, the authors need to exercise more caution so as not to confuse the fact that Jesus is the only way to salvation with the smug attitudes of the triumphalist - the true Christian is not smug about the eternal damnation of others, nor does he or she arbitrate based on the "likes" and "dislikes" of individuals who is "saved" and who is not - to do that is to do the Holy Spirit's job, and that is not possible.  There are those who do seek answers, like the example of Ari the book uses, but that doesn't mean we just extend salvation to them either just because they are "sincere" - no, we witness Christ to them, and that is the way they will find the answers they seek.  I am actually quite relieved though when I read on page 69 the following statement - after a discussion about the one true road to God, they conclude that section by saying "We know, this is harsh.  But it's what the Bible says in pretty much the same way:  ' There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death' (Proverbs 14:2)."  It is perfectly fine to point out the wrong way, but it is also equally important to point out the correct path too, and that is John 14:6 - "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man cometh unto the Father except through Me."  Fortunately for the authors, they devote pages 70-72 to the fact that Jesus is an exclusive way to salvation, and thankfully they rely on referencing a sound Roman Catholic apologist, Peter Kreeft, to substantiate their position.  Beginning on page 73, they also affirm that no man-made road reaches heaven, and this is also consistent with both Scripture and the teaching of the Church.  However, the final section of the chapter, pages 74-79, deals with another aspect of the question - there may only be one way to heaven, but are there more ways to Jesus Himself?  Interesting question that merits a discussion of its own, which follows.

The authors open this section with an important question they quote from Kreeft on page 74 - what subjective relationship must one have with Jesus in order to be on the right way?  Is it a simple "prayer of the heart," in other words, or is it a systematic approach?  How much knowledge does one have to have about Jesus to be "saved?"   I will take it one further on that last question - what does it mean to "be saved?"   This term salvation means different things to different Christian traditions - to Evangelicals, it is a one-time event synonymous with conversion, whereas with more Catholic traditions it is a lifestyle that is lived out after conversion.  The authors make an important point on page 76 that provides an answer to this dilemma - salvation by faith in Jesus is not as straightforward or formulaic as we think?  Hmmm...odd statement coming from a couple of Evangelical Protestant authors, but not so odd when thought in the context of the historic Church.  The authors deal with some interesting Evangelical cliches that I myself often questioned in my days as an Evangelical many years ago - questions such as what does it mean to "ask Jesus into your heart," or "accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior."  Is  it merely a profession, or is there something more to it?   I prefer the Catholic understanding personally of conversion and salvation - they constitute a mystery of faith that cannot be articulated, but you know something real has happened.  It seems - and I could be wrong - that the authors are sort of coming to that conclusion as well.

So, the base question - does the exclusivity of believing in Jesus marginalize others?  On pages 76-77 the authors tackle that question by noting that Christians first don't have a monopoly on truth - that is actually correct, and also Thomistic, as natural law even applies outside the Church as well.  Also, although Jesus is the only, true way of salvation, this in no way implies marginalization - John 3:16 affirms that Jesus died for all men out of great love, and that it is up to the person as an individual to choose to follow Him or not; that choice, as a gift of free will, is to be respected but also lamented if it is a wrong choice.  The final point they make in that section is that it is people rather than truth itself that marginalizes - people who are well-meaning but misguided can let their convictions create walls that generate marginalization, in other words.  The convictions themselves are not necessarily evil, but the attitude with which the conviction is carried out may be the marginalizing factor.  Those are actually some good points.  In the following section - pages 77-78 - the authors bring home the point by suggesting that the way to Jesus is exclusively one, but its availability is to all.  This is a fair and orthodox way of stating it.  

On pages 78-79, the authors tackle the question of why people are reluctant to follow Jesus, and some obvious things is that it is an emotional decision rather than an intellectual one, and this therefore means one's choice is based on how they "feel" about it.  However, they also discuss the role of faith, and although they don't explicitly state it, they do correctly conclude that faith is not based on feelings, but often transcends them.  Also, when one relies on reason alone without faith, one is subject to only empirical data, and faith oftentimes transcends the empirical.  If I may add to this, faith is transformative, and as a response to supernatural grace, it aids in making our minds and hearts open to being healed, elevated, and perfected by that same supernatural grace, and in essence we see the "bigger picture" that mere empirical data or emotional response cannot provide.  On that note, the chapter ends on a fairly orthodox note that would elicit little argument from historic Church teaching.

The rest of the book deals with other specifics - hell, what happens at the moment of death, whether animals go to heaven, etc.  However, these two pivotal chapters set the stage for the rest of the book, in that they address the fundamental questions that need to be answered in order to move forward.  In that regard, perhaps Chapters 1 and 5 should have been together, and the rest of the book following, but the flow of the text does bring everything together.  There is much to concur with in Bickel's and Jantz's text, but there are also concerns - the reliance on "Emerging Church" writers such as Tim Keller and Scott McKnight, for instance, as well as some rather normative Evangelical convictions that would be at variance with more traditional Patristic and Catholic viewpoints.  However the text is not without its merit, and it does provide some good material for pastors, catechists, and others when these questions inevitably will arise.  

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Review of Eric J. Bargerhuff, "The Most Misused Stories in the Bible"


Bargerhuff, Eric J.  The Most Misused Stories in the Bible.  Bloomington, MN:  Bethany House, 2017.

I am doing a new thing with my blog, as I am going to be reviewing new books on a monthly basis as part of a program I am participating in for a publisher.   The other day, I was inundated with three packages in my Martinsburg, WV, P.O. box which we haven't checked in some time, and upon checking the box one of the books I had received was this one.   Now, it is important that as I review a book, I know a couple of things.  First, I want to know something about the author, as that is vital to understanding more of what I will be reading.  Secondly, I want to also check out his source material to make sure it isn't referencing off-the-wall junk in the book - referencing a deviant source doesn't necessarily invalidate the book itself, as oftentimes the source may be cited critically in order to show how the author differs with it, and that I can respect.  Therefore, I want to start there first.

Eric Bargerhuff is, as the back cover of this book notes, a professor of Bible and Theology at Trinity College of Florida.  He received his own degrees at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, including the Ph.D. he possesses, which would place him squarely within the Protestant Evangelical tradition.  He has written another similarly-titled book, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, and that will be worth examining more at some point as well.  I also checked out his Trinity College profile (http://www.trinitycollege.edu/dr.-eric-bargerhuff/, accessed 5/27/2017) and it notes that he lives in Trinity, FL, which is a small community between New Port Richey and Zephyrhills just off SR 54.  I know that area well, as we used to attend Mass at a Maronite parish that met out there, and we also lived about an hour south of there for several years.  Trinity College is itself a small school located in the same area, and what puzzles me is what denominational affilliation (if any) that Trinity and Dr. Bargerhuff have, as he has 20 years of pastoral experience as well.  In reading the book thoroughly, I will understand better where is position is and it may reveal his theological tradition within Evangelicalism.

As for source material he references, a careful perusal through his footnotes reveals that he relies on some fairly orthodox Evangelical sources for his material, citing frequently for instance the works of John MacArthur and Wayne Grudem, as well as John Piper and D.A. Carson.  This means that he is not in any way part of the "Emerging Church" movement, and he appears to be part of a moderately Calvinistic theological tradition.  I am still at variance with many of his views as an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist myself, but I can appreciate and respect his views, as at least he is within a consistent Christian tradition.

I am going to focus my review now on three chapters of the book, the first being Chapter 4, which he entitles "Jonah and the Big Fish."   One excellent point he makes is on page 41, where he asserts that many who read the account of Jonah misunderstand it due to misplaced emphasis - many focus on either the fish itself, or the city of Nineveh, or even the person of Jonah.  However, Bargerhuff correctly notes that the true emphasis of the story is to be upon God's patient, enduring, and loving grace, and his love for the sinner and desire for the sinner's redemption.  This is consistent with the historic Church teaching regarding the kerygma of Scripture and divine economy - God's desire is to restore mankind to what he was created to be in the Garden, and all of Scripture (especially its covenants) point to Christ as the ultimate manifestation of that kerygma.  This is also consistent with the Thomistic tradition as well, as the function of supernatural grace is to perfect, heal, and elevate nature, and its prime focus is on human nature when it comes to the purpose of the kerygma.  As Bargerhuff points out too, the legitimacy of Jonah's prophetic office is not in question either, but rather the fact that Jonah messes up also focuses the story back to the primary role of God's grace, which is not only extended to the Ninevites Jonah preaches to eventually, but to Jonah himself.  As a catechist, one concern of correctly teaching the Fidei Depositum is that Christocentricity must be noted in the Old Testament accounts, and this is done primarily through typology.  On page 42, Bargerhuff addresses this specifically when he correctly notes that Jesus even linked his own death and resurrection to Jonah's story, in that Jonah's ordeal with the fish was a typological image of the death, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus Himself.  The following paragraph to this discussion on page 42 also resonates well - in addressing those who would question the historicity of Jonah - especially the fish part - Bargerhuff reminds the reader that the Bible is a supernatural book about a supernatural God who does supernatural things.  That was refreshing to read, in that Bargerhuff affirms the historicity of Scripture and is not subscribing to Enlightenment-influenced Biblical scholarship like that of the Turbingen School.  Reading further on page 43, Bargerhuff also notes the fact that God pursued Jonah despite the fact Jonah balked and rebelled against a divine mandate - the fish was not necessarily a punishment in other words, but also a demonstration of God's grace, which the author describes as "radical and pursuing."  For many who almost divorce the Father in the Old Testament from the Son in the New, this says a lot - it means that the same grace God manifested in the person of the Son was very much a part of the Old Testament kerygma as well.   Note as well Genesis 3, another passage often misused by many and that the author should have also addressed - when God pronounces sentence in the Garden at the end of Genesis 3, it is often assumed that God "cursed" Adam and Eve - if you re-read that however, it does not imply that at all.  Rather, God cursed the ground for man's sake, and the implication here is that if man stays busy, he will protect himself from the temptation of sin.   In Jonah's case a similar misunderstanding comes to mind in the thinking of many who read this story - moving over to page 46, the author notes that while the miraculous - a big fish swallowing Jonah and Jonah somehow surviving - is a prominent part of the story, there are three words that are often overlooked:  "the Lord appointed."  Bargerhuff then proceeds to explain this by noting that the appointment by God of all the steps in this saga is a witness of the unlimited supernatural grace God extends to all He loves, and even adversity is at times an appointment by God to get our attention.  I personally experienced that recently myself when a series of adverse circumstances made me snap, and I even refused to go to church for a couple of weeks.  Yet, there was something liberating about it, and I had time to do some introspection and was able to get refocused and am now more aware of what I am supposed to do and how I am supposed to do it.  Even reviewing this book is an appointment of sorts, as it confirms my own experience in this case - my late spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, often said "Man's disappointments are God's appointments."  That could truly apply to the story of Jonah as well.  A couple of pages later, Bargerhuff even expounds more on that point by noting that God even uses human rebellion to work His plan - as noted on page 50, even when Jonah obeys, his heart was not truly in what he was doing, and therefore God used a man with shortcomings to bring a city to its knees and spare it - God uses us sometimes in spite of ourselves, in other words.  On page 51, the author's orthodox position is summarized in one sentence he writes - "Ministry success today should never be measured by the size of the building or the crowd, but by the change in people's hearts and lives through the message of repentance and faith."  True repentance is something that can be accomplished by imperfect vessels - as an Anglo-Catholic, this is made very apparent through the sacramental grace one receives in the Eucharist; it is not about the priest offering, but rather about the Body and Blood we receive.  Grace, as the author notes on page 54, is not something deserved (the classic Evangelical definition of "grace" in this case is "unmerited favor.") but rather is an endowed gift God gives us to sanctify and restore us to that which He intended us to be in the first place.  And, the focus shifts as a result of that grace from us to Him.  That is why the author makes a very compelling case about the fact the story is ultimately about that and not about the fish, Nineveh, or even Jonah.  However, those secondary details - the historicity of Jonah, ancient Assyrian history, and the identity of the fish (which I personally believe to be a Megalodon) enhance the story and there is nothing wrong with studying those details, but the author asserts that we need to recall the real focus of the story is God's supernatural grace.

The next chapter I wanted to turn to is Chapter 13, entitled "This is My Body."  As an Anglo-Catholic traditionalist personally with a definite belief in the Real Presence, this chapter got my attention.  Being the author is an Evangelical Protestant with a more symbolic view of Communion, I expect to differ with him in opinion as I embarked upon reading this chapter.  There is a statement though on page 135 that Bargerhuff makes which summarizes the ultimate desire of Eucharistic theology, although he probably doesn't see it that way - the Christian longs for the presence of Christ.  He then notes on the following page that there are many ways Christians can spiritually experience the presence of Christ - prayer, worship, service, Bible study, fellowship with those of like precious faith, etc.  He does note that the Lord's Table is the unique way we experience this presence, and in a typical Protestant Evangelical way he notes the presence is solely spiritual and a remembrance in the sense of "memorial."  He then proceeds to misinterpret the Catholic understanding of the Real Presence on page 137 when he incorrectly says that Catholics are "in fact" offering up Christ as a sacrifice on a regular basis - that is not exactly true at all, and like many he misinterprets what we do in the Mass.  God transcends our linear time and space, and no Catholic (at least an informed one) would ever believe that we are sacrificing Jesus over and over again - that misconception is a carryover from biases from the Radical Reformation, and I would recommend that Dr. Bargerhuff read the Catholic position as it truly is believed by us - he would do well to read Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper, as well as Brant Pitre's The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.   If one takes the time to really study this, one will understand that the sacrifice of Christ is once and eternal, and by supernatural grace we participate in that sacrifice every time we partake of the Body and Blood, not by recrucifying Christ all over again, but rather by a mystery of faith we are taken ourselves in a way that transcends time to the foot of the very Cross itself, and there we receive the nourishment that transforms us through supernatural grace.   I am amused at how even educated Evangelicals who are intelligent and well-read still miss this, when they should know better.  That being said, I will give him credit though for stating something at the bottom of page 137 - the ongoing practice of sacrificial rites in the Old Testament was indeed designed to foreshadow the future perfect sacrifice of Christ, and I will go further by saying that every covenant points to that reality.  On the next page (138) Bargerhuff also makes another common Evangelical error - the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.  I used to believe this as a fundamental of faith until I understood it better myself - God cannot substitute for our sin, and penal substitution is not possible because the love of God is far deeper and greater than our sin.  By extension, so is supernatural grace.  Although Jesus was a perfect sacrifice for our sins, He must not be understood as a tit-for-tat substitution - later on the same page, Bargerhuff partially redeems himself by noting correctly that the perfect sacrifice of Jesus was not to atone for sin, but to bring a reward of complete salvation.  But, why?  Simply, it goes back to unlimited love and supernatural grace - God's love for us is beyond our ability to understand, and it far outweighs even the worst sin committed.  Our responsibility then is to accept or reject it.  In further discussion of the Eucharist (although as an Evangelical Bargerhuff would not call it that) he then makes the assumption that the references Jesus made to "Body" and "Blood" were merely metaphorical, allegorical, and symbolic and spiritual, as he notes on page 141.  I would suggest that he re-examine what the early Church taught about the Eucharist - he may be in for a surprise!  Also, while he does acknowledge the importance of the sacrament in the life of the Church, he errs by stating that there is no specific command on the frequency of celebrating it - on the contrary, many Fathers and Doctors of the Church from the earliest times taught that it is to be partaken as often as possible, at least weekly.  One of the earliest documents of Church discipline, dating to earliest times, entitled the Didache gives the admonition to "Gather each Sunday, break bread, and give thanks, first confessing your sins, that your sacrifice may be pure."  Look at those terms - "giving thanks" is the background for the term Eucharist itself, and the confession of sin before receiving it also denotes that this is not mere bread and wine, but something more.  And, the term sacrifice - as an Evangelical, Bargerhuff would not be as intimately familiar with the term liturgy itself, as the word comes from two Greek terms (Laos, meaning "people, and ergon, meaning "work" - they are joined by the conjunctive tou meaning "of" or "from," and thus have evolved together via the Latin liturgica to mean "a work of or from the people.)  and when liturgy is also associated with Eucharist as the focal point of the liturgical celebration, it pops out as being a work of sacrifice in thanksgiving for what God has done for us, and we receive it humbly and joyfully.   It is also an integral part of the Lord's Prayer as well (for another discussion, but I would challenge Bargerhuff to look at the misuse of the term "daily bread" and how it was traditionally understood - it will cause one to radically rethink how one prays that prayer!).  Therefore, contrary to the classic Evangelical assertion that the frequency of how a church celebrates the Lord's Table is irrelevant, the early Church placed a great importance upon that very fact.  Therefore, while some good things can be gleaned from this chapter, in the greater context of faith and praxis it is of little value to a Catholic Christian.

I now want to focus on the conclusion of the book, which begins on page 153.   There are many valuable and good points to be made in the first couple of paragraphs.  For one, he affirms that we should never abandon the literal (plain text) meaning of Scripture, although at the same time we use reason and the teaching of the Church to guide us, which I would add.  There is a traditional four-fold reading of Scripture that the Church mandates, and it entails this - the literal (plain sense), the allegorical (dealing with faith and spirituality), the moral (dealing with practice and living), and the anagogical (focusing on the ultimate destination of our faith - where we are going).  Although over the centuries some Biblical scholars have focused on one and have dismissed others, they all go together and Scripture is to be understood from all of those senses.  That being said, Bargerhuff on the following pages then offers some sound and universal responses to common errors that often get us off-kilter - he notes that we should avoid ignoring the context of the passage, attempt to understand the main point, read it free of modern-day biases, accepting discovered truth whether we agree or disagree with it personally, and others.  However, on one he errs grossly - on page 156, he makes a blanket statement that a common error is allowing "tradition" to cloud facts.  What he says on the surface makes sense - we shouldn't impose human traditions back on our understanding of Scripture.  There is some wisdom in that, but Bargerhuff is not specific at defining of what he thinks "human traditions" are.  The "T word" is almost an anathema to many Protestant Evangelicals, and often they will balk at the mere utterance of the word without really understanding what they are balking against.  In this case, what Bargerhuff needs to clarify is the difference between "human traditions" and historic Tradition of the Church, something that may not be relevant to his understanding but is fundamental to a Catholic Christian.  The problem with many who balk at the term "tradition" is that often they dismiss historic understandings as taught by the Church since her founding in favor of something they "feel" the Holy Spirit is telling them, and in essence what they are doing (although they fail to admit it) is replacing a Tradition of the Church with their own "human traditions."  When that happens, it creates a disconnect - one knows something should be there, but in rejecting the soundness of the historic position of the Church and replacing it with their own experiential "human tradition," they are in essence trying to substitute a filet mignon with a dollar-store weiner, and it will eventually lead to some bad consequence.  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason all form a part of a sound hermeneutic of Scripture, and they are all integral to a healthy theology and hermeneutic.  If one is lacking or replaced, it makes the whole thing incomplete.  So, in essence, what Bargerhuff said by the imposition of "human traditions" clouding facts, he is correct, but it also points a finger back to the many sects of Evangelicals whose own bodies of "human traditions" have often even pitted them against each other.  That then leads to another issue he addresses as an error (correctly) on page 157 - taking a man-centered approach instead of seeing God and His glory as the central focus of Scripture.  The Bible is primarily a book about God, as he correctly states, but it isn't about who God is (theology in the strictest sense) but rather about what He does (economy, the essence of the Kerygma, in other words).  It would probably be important to buttress his argument with that distinction, as there is no possibility that anything could ever completely reveal to us who God is, but his deeds do reveal many of the important things about Him.  That is what makes Holy Scripture true, inerrant, and infallible - God's work is true, and it is for the benefit of His creation, in particular the human race.

There are many valuable things that Bargerhuff does say in the concluding paragraphs of the book which do merit its value, and it compels the reader to take away some new insights on how one approaches Scripture.  He notes correctly in the middle of page 158 the imperfection of human nature, and that our own understanding of Scripture grows as we study more and grow ourselves.  I can testify to that fact, and by writing that Bargerhuff does too - admitting that shows an openness on the part of the author that may even in the future require a revision or two of this very book (and maybe even my review of it - who's to say?).  In the next paragraph, he also notes that people are hungry for the truth but don't necessarily realize it until that moment happens (as it has to me for sure at times) when one's soul gets an overwhelming craving for it,  This leads to the very last sentence of the book, which is "Let us strive to be faithful, and in humility, allow ourselves to be corrected along the way."  That could be a fitting prayer for all of us, and as one of my own professors at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Dr. Bob Rice, admonished us once in a class lecture, Scripture is not just a book to be studied academically, but it is foremost to be read prayerfully.  I think that Dr. Bargerhuff would probably concur, as despite a few denominational biases in his writing he also is a man who seems to write with a humility, and that I can appreciate and respect.  Definitely read the book - if you are Evangelical reader, you will probably think "This sounds good to me," but a traditional Catholic reader of this text will need to be better-informed when reading it, and read with discernment.  Like anything else, there is good "meat" in the text, but there is also some fat and gristle you will need to spit out on occasion - but, don't throw out the steak because of a piece of gristle - savor the meat and discard the gristle!