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.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 9 - "And Lead Us Not Into Temptation"

We are getting down to the last two petitions of the Lord's Prayer, which some would treat as one and the same, although Guardini's text separates them for good reason.  As we embark upon the petition "And lead us not into temptation," we will be focusing on two aspects of the petition.

First, as Guardini points out on page 76 of his text, the purpose of this petition is the desire that God doesn't bring us into the possibility of sinful action, but he also notes that this isn't quite correct either.  The reason Guardini says this is due to the reality of our already being situated in that possibility due to the Fall and our own concupiscence to sin, and to be removed from that is contingent upon the miraculous.  Also, I will add to that the fact that the original translation of this petition read more like this - let us not be led into temptation.  After all, it isn't God who leads us to be tempted - God never intended for that in the first place!   In the same manner, it is also not God who sends us to hell - we do that ourselves.   God doesn't want us to be subjected to temptation, nor does he desire us to be thrown into hell, but we get in the way of that.   Remember the earlier part of the Lord's Prayer, and the lynchpin petition holding it all together - "Thy will be done?"   Well, it goes back to Guardini's teaching on that, which states that although God's will is great and perfect, our own stubbornness and the wrong application of our God-given free will often weakens the will of God in our lives, hence the petition is needed to pray that God's will be done, and that our will should conform to God's.   In the same way, concupiscence for sin makes temptation to sin possible, and only a living, loving relationship with God through Christ helps us overcome that.   So, in praying that we may not be led into temptation, Guardini notes on page 77 that this petition can only mean that God may grant that the reality of concupiscence may not manifest in sinful action, and that is where we need to focus.

In this day and age, it is often too easy to be "led into temptation" even in the supposed Church world.  As the time grows ever closer for Christ's return, we are given several signs that His coming is closer, and one of those signs is in direct relation to this petition in the Lord's prayer.   Starting first in II Thessalonians 2:11, we note something -  many will not receive the full truth of the Gospel, and indeed many who do will apostatize the faith - we see this also in I Timothy 4:1, where it is mentioned that in the latter times some will depart (apostatize) from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of devils, and in doing so, they will begin to not only embrace some wacky things, but even allow the world system to dictate their values and behavior.  We see this likewise in II Timothy 3:13-14, where it says this will get worse, with both people deceiving and being deceived.  Note that much of this in the Church, and if you go back to the parables of Jesus, it is the tares/goats/bad fish He talked about.  And, it will be widespread - many people, in the name of Christianity, will embrace this stuff in such a way that it makes no sense, except that they are being deceived by a false delusion God allows to be sent upon them.   Now, take a look at the news today, will you - apostasy is on the rise in all sectors of Christianity, and people are believing all sorts of bizarre stuff.  All logic dictates they should know better, yet they fall into the trap - look now, for instance, at how many Catholic and Evangelical Protestant clergy are embracing things like evolution and "gay marriage" because it makes them more "relevant" to today's society.   Problem is, God has always transcended the trends of the day, and His truths are eternal.   Therefore, as Guardini notes on page 78 of his text, the petition to "not be led into temptation" is for the believer confessing it a humble recognition of the truth as well as an appeal to God's mercy.  That being said, when we pray "let us not be led into temptation" it means that we be strengthened against the assault and pressure to "conform" to the groupthink that permeates much popular theology.  The reason for that is quite simple - the distractions and allurements of this life  (including temptations to tinker with orthodox teaching in favor of a more popular approach) turn the propensity to sin into an urgent danger, and the temptation grows fierce and relentless.   Therefore, when the pressure is on to conform to things that clearly contradict the orthodox teaching of the Church on anything, it means that we need to seek to be closer to God in communion with Him, and the way we do that is through an active sacramental and devotional life.

This then leads to the second aspect of the discussion that Guardini opens up on pages 80-82 - can God permit temptation to become so severe that we must fall?   In 1983, Christian novelist Frank Peretti wrote a compelling drama of spiritual warfare called This Present Darkness, in which a small Midwestern town becomes the scene of an intense spiritual struggle between a rich national occultist business mogul named Alexander Kaseph and a small-town young pastor of a local church named Hank Busche.    In a series of events that follow, God allows the pastor to fall into a situation in which a demon-possessed woman (who was a plant) attacks him, and he gets arrested and thrown in jail on a trumped-up rape charge.  As you read the story further, God allows this to happen because another protagonist, a persistent and stubborn local newspaper editor named Marshall Hogan, is framed in a similar way when his own daughter is influenced by a witch who is teaching psychology classes at the local college, and he too ends up in jail and the pastor ends up being his cellmate - as the pastor and editor began to compare notes, they begin to play their respective parts in God's plan to bring down the underlying spiritual powers behind Kaseph's empire - a demonic prince named Rafar - and God used a tragic and unjust situation to gain victory over the forces of evil in that town.   As Guardini notes, every hour we exist is woven into the whole fabric of our lives as individuals, and it is important to note that Satan has an assignment to cause each of us to fall just as God has a plan - the temptations that Satan and demonic entities use against us grow from our previous actions in our life's journey, and these circumstances that create the potential temptations to us become incorporated into our living being as either a weakness or strength, a protection or threat - it all depends on our response to it.  But, even when we fail in some way, and perhaps we end up sinning (the question for us as human beings, due to the concupiscence issue, is not if we will sin, but when - we are vulnerable, and a moment of weakness can lead to a sinful act on our part).   This present hour - right now - is the distillation therefore of all that has happened in our lives up to this point.  Remember the Aquinas principle of non-contradiction based on God's two books - Nature and Revelation?   Well, remember that Revelation perfects Nature and Nature can never contradict Revelation, as God created the natural order and it functions according to how He created it, even down to the most minute and simplest of detail.  That being said, each of us has our own "Book of Nature," or our story, if you will, and a "Master Book" of that story is a continuous action until we repose.   When God's Word becomes involved in our lives on a personal level, it transforms our story in that God allows His revelation to begin to perfect us, and from that interaction comes what is called a testimony.  Although some of my fellow Anglo-Catholics, as well as brethren in the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches who read this, may pooh-pooh the idea of "personal testimony" as being a bi-product of Protestant revivalism, in reality all Christians have a testimony of some sorts - we, if we are completely honest with ourselves, have to acknowledge a profound move of God's will in our lives on some level, whether it be surviving a debilitating illness, a moment when something transforms our lives, or even just the daily insight we receive from our personal prayer and reading of the Bible and other devotional literature.  These things become integrated into our own "Master Book," and as they do, they begin to shape our existence as living beings.  And, that also includes the negative - an occasional sin or personal tragedy of some sort can be used of God to draw us back to Him, and it serves to remind us of the current petition we are discussing - "Let us not be led into temptation."   And, that leads to another discussion - predestination.

The term "predestination" has been the topic of much lively theological debate over the centuries, and the source of the debate is simply this - does God know the outcome of our lives in detail, or does our free will shape some (or all) of it?   The most notable historical aspect of this debate is the Calvinist/Arminian controversy of the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation.   Some Calvinists taught something called supralapsarianism, which means that God has predestined some to salvation, and others to damnation, and therefore if you were chosen for salvation, nothing you could do would forfeit that (leading to two doctrines, one being irresistable grace, and the second being perserverance of the saints, or the doctrine of the eternal security of the believer, sometimes called by its critics "once saved always saved.")  Calvinist Protestants in recent times have gone two directions with this idea, with the more conservative believing in a strict "Two-Seed Predestinarianism," which presupposes that certain people are actually earmarked for damnation, while the more liberal would go with Universalism, the belief that all humanity is part of "the elect" and will all be saved anyway (it is now called in some Evangelical circles Universal Reconcilliation or Inclusionism, and has been popularized by Emergent Church people such as Rob Bell).   The problem with this position in either extreme is that it doesn't really define what predestination actually is, because it presupposes that God has already set this in stone and it is in direct conflict with the Gospel message, which proclaims that Jesus died for all, yet it is up to us to accept that as individuals.   If we look at Romans 9:20-23, we see the paradox as God Himself asks through the words of the Apostle Paul, "But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?"   And, explaining this further, an analogy of the potter shaping a clay vessel is used - does not the potter have power over the clay to make a vessel for honor or for dishonor?   Taking the whole Scriptures into context, the point is that God made the vessel (meaning us), and it was good (Genesis 1:31).  However, how the vessel is used is what makes it honorable or dishonorable.   The point is that evil doesn't come from God, but from our fallen nature, and if man chooses to live in a way that is dishonorable, he condemns himself and God only pronounces the verdict.  Again, God doesn't throw us into hell, nor does He will that we die as sinners, but if we make the wrong choice, we pay the consequences.  The late evangelist Kathryn Kuhlman also expressed this well too, as she often said in her meetings that God doesn't desire gold or silver vessels, but rather yielded vessels.  A yielded vessel would be one of us who desires from the heart when he or she prays from the lips "Thy will be done," not only in a broad sense as the Lord's Prayer says ("on earth as it is in heaven") but on a personal level, making inner transformation into that which God has predestined us to be.   Therefore, by predestination, it simply means that in a way which transcends our own understanding, God can see the outcomes of all our choices, and it is up to us to exercise free will in making the right or wrong choice.  God decreed man to be created in this way because He is love Himself, Our Father!  

Now we come to that principle of grace, which coming from the Greek charis implies something that is outside the realm of effort and obligation.  Grace (or as defined by some appropriately as "unmerited favor") is a free gift of God, hence its attraction and beauty.  Grace is given from God's love, and is not hedged by earned or inherent rights or securities - "security" after all implies right, guarantee, and constraint, which grace transcends.  Therefore, grace is the defining true meaning of predestination, in that it is a thought of love (specifically God's love) and it is the final assurance the all comes from God's freedom.  Therefore, the Christian must let go of everything that spells security, rights, and demonstrable common sense, thus freeing one to achieve harmony with God.  Now, what does all of that mean?  Does it mean that we check our brains at the door of the Church when we go in, and that we don't utilize common sense at all?   Does it also mean we deny all our own rights?   No!   It means that we deny ourselves those things which are based on selfish motive - we always affirm the right to worship God in freedom of conscience, for instance, because that honors God.   We stand up for other human rights because they benefit others besides ourselves - this is why, in some cases, it is permissable to kill in self-defense when our families or communities are threatened, and it also is why St. Augustine taught the theory of "just war," because it means enforcing justice for others even if it means laying our own lives on the line for it.  Some "Christian pacifists" today don't understand that, and the reason that is the case is because they have not been put into a situation where they had to act on behalf of another in that way, and many of them would not have the courage to stand up for what is right anyway.   That is why, too, we need to be careful not to be led into the temptation of our own securities, because our own securities lead to a delusion of heresy and misinterpretation of things.

As we continue next time with the complimentary petition to this one - "deliver us from evil" - we will be continuing in this train of thought, as again we need to keep in mind that the Lord's Prayer only makes sense if you can see how each part of it fits together with the others.  Preventing the sway into temptation as we talked about here is intimately connected to deliverance from evil as well, and we will be seeing that.   God be with and bless each of you reading this until our next visit.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Refining and Reducing - A Study For Today's Remnant

I wanted to take a break this week from posting the parish Bible studies because I have some important stuff to talk about today.  Looking around at our present society, and especially the violence and persecution done against people of true faith, calls for a word of encouragement.  So, that is what I want to share today.



On a sunny day in the ancient kingdom of Israel some 2700 or so years in the past, a guy named Elijah lived, and he was a true prophet of God.  Concerned about the rise of the worship of a pagan devil called Baal imported from the neighboring kingdom of Sidon in Phoenicia by Ahab's Lebanese wife Jezebel, and the growing numbers of Israelites being swept up in the fervor of this pagan ritual, Elijah had to do something drastic.  So, he issued a challenge to King Ahab to duke it out with about 900 "prophets" of the demon Baal atop Mt. Carmel in northern Israel.   Despite all their best efforts - which included self-mutilation by cutting, etc. (I Kings 18:28) - it came to nothing, but Elijah uttered one simple prayer - "Lord God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that You are God in Israel and I am your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your word.  Hear me, O Lord, hear me, that this people may know that You are the Lord God, and that You have turned their hearts back to You again" (I Kings 18:37-38, NKJV).  All of a sudden, WHOOOSSSHHHHH!!!! Fire rained from the sky and totally incinerated the sacrifice, the altar, and even with all the gallons and gallons of water that saturated it all - it even boiled the trench around the altar dry!   It was a great day for Elijah and his God.

However, despite such a momentous victory, old Queen Jezebel was not happy, and she wanted to settle the score with this troublesome prophet of God messing up her religious enterprise.  So, she sent word to Elijah - in effect threatening his life! - by saying "So let the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as one of them by tomorrow this time!" (I Kings 19:2, NKJV).   So, Elijah was essentially a fugitive with a death sentence on his head.  He fled into neighboring Judah to the desert, and while out there all this mess began to get to him, at which time he flopped his weary body under a broom tree and resigned himself, saying, "It is enough!  Now Lord, take my life, as I am no better than my fathers" (I Kings 19:4).   But, some hours later, he was awakened by a strange voice saying "arise and eat," and there was a piping hot breakfast waiting for him!   This happened a couple of more nights as Elijah camped out in a cave, and finally God asked him, "What are you doing here, Elijah?"  (I Kings 19:9, NKJV).  Elijah spilled his guts, essentially telling God that it was a lost cause trying to save those reprobates back home because if he even tried, he would be strung up himself.  So, God tested him - which one would sound like His voice - the tornado, the earthquake, the fire, or just a still small voice?  Then, God asked him again what he was doing out there, and Elijah gave the same shpil as before.  In response, God told Elijah to go and anoint another king in Israel, a guy named Jehu, and then told Elijah this - "Yet I have reserved seven thousand in Israel, all whose knees have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him." (I Kings 19:18).   That is the crux of this story for us, because whatever hits us, we are not alone, and indeed are in good company with great Biblical heroes like Elijah and even Jesus Himself.  And, this is where I want to talk some. 

We have all felt like Elijah at some point, if we are serving God like we are supposed to, haven't we?   I think now for instance of the brilliant creationist, Dr. Kent Hovind, who is locked away unjustly in a jail over something that the sentence hasn't been exactly fair.  I think of the 21 new Coptic saints who were martyred recently on a beach in Libya by ISIS demons, all because they were Christians.  I think of Cardinal Raymond Burke, the faithful Roman Catholic cardinal who was demoted by a pope who I am finding very disturbing recently.  And, those Christian businesses who are being outlandishly sued by radical homosexual activists over cake of all things - Marie Antoinette would be proud of those homo-nazis, I will say that!  And on, and on, it goes - I too have had my share of being slandered and falsely accused by people who I stood up against as well - academics and even fellow students in Christian colleges who all of a sudden think it's good to be heretical  - so I know too.  I am not going to go into a lot of that or the details these situations entail, except to say that in my own perplexity this story of Elijah reminds me that I am not alone - there are faithful Remnants of those who have not "bowed the knee to Baal," and I have learned to seek them out, and we encourage each other.  They transcend denomination too - some of these good people are Baptists, some are Pentecostals, others are Catholics, and some belong to other church traditions, but we all share a faith that we joyfully confess and just don't nominally assent to in order to "kiss butt" with religious and academic hierarchy.  However, I still have to ask myself on occasion - has the world gone completely nuts????    Just in the past 20 years so much has happened that it is even beyond my own comprehension at times, and it does overwhelm me on occasion.  However, it is at that time God starts talking, and the peace of understanding His plan is what gives me a reason to go on, just like it did Elijah in the wilderness. 

A few nights ago, I had a rather disturbing dream that relates to this.  In it, I was in a bad snowstorm in a subtropical place like Florida, and next thing I know I am battling with wolf-creatures of some sort in the dream!   There were two types of these creatures - one had the appearance of a wolf but also walked upright and was sentient like a human.  The other looked like a giant wolf similar to those creatures in Tolkien's The Hobbit, and those were vicious-looking.   The two creatures were different in the dream but seemed to be working together in a common purpose.  As I thought about that, the Lord gave me the meaning of this dream - whenever you see a wolf in a dream, it is a spiritual adversary of some sort.   The ones that had human-like attributes and were smaller represented apostate Christians, while the meaner, bigger creatures represented outright demon-worship.  What God was showing me is something we will be talking about momentarily, as at some point in the very near future there will be enemies sitting in our churches who will be trying to destroy us, and we need to have sharp discernment - they will look and act like one of the flock, but they will be a ravenous wolf.   And, now that is what we are going to talk about here.

In a conservative Anglo-Catholic Facebook group I am part of, I have been reading a number of articles that have been posted, and many of them are quite enlightening.  One article that caught my attention in particular was by Evangelical writer Ed Stetzer, and it was entitled "Survey Fail - Christianity Isn't Dying" (available at http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2015/05/13/nones-americans-christians-evangelicals-column/27198423/).   The premise of Stetzer's article, which I thought was excellent, is that true Christianity is as vibrant as ever, which he calls "convictional Christianity" as opposed to "nominal Christianity."  Although the statistics of the "unaffilliated" are growing from 16% to 23% as of a recent Pew Research poll, Stetzer notes that "Nominal Christians are becoming the nones and convictional Christians remain committed. It is fair to say we are now experiencing a collapse, but it's not of Christianity. Instead, the free fall we find is within nominalism."  It is also important at this point to understand what Stetzer calls "Nones," and fellow Anglican researcher Bart Gingerich defined "Nones" as being those people - many of them Millenials unfortunately - who identify as "spiritual but not religious," and have a code they follow called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term coined by writers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton sometime around 2005 and consisting of a set of core tenets which embodies God as the "cosmic butler", and strong doses of political correctness and universalism.  Many of these "nones" do attend "churches," but they prefer people like Rob Bell or Brian McLaren who preach pretty much the same junk.  Many of these "kids" (as a lot of them are in their 20's) are sort of hippie-like in outlook, but the danger comes in what they have the potential of turning into as time progresses - these are the future enemies of true Christianity.  That is why it is important now to witness the truth to as many of them as possible, because the window is growing shorter by the day.  

We should actually not be overly surprised that all of this is happening, as it was foretold in the Bible two millenia ago.  There are a number of things we need to pay attention to in Scripture though, because they mean something more so now than ever.  Here is a sampling of what I am talking about:

1.  A great apostasy in the Church (I Timothy 4:1, II Timothy 3:1-6, Matthew 13:3-23, 24-30, 24:9-12)
2.  Perceived knowledge which is self-promoting (Titus 1:16, II Timothy 3:7, Romans 1:22)
3.  God giving people up to strong delusions and doctrines of devils (I Timothy 4;1-2, II Thessalonians 2:11, Romans 1:28)

More could be said and shown, but this gives you an idea of what is happening.  In order for people to totally apostatize, they have to be led by heady, high-minded people (the professors with their titles and letters after their names) who themselves are given to false teachings and illusions - many of these people at one time may have been Christians, but they forgot who they were and abandoned their faith in order to seek their own glory, and it shows in their attitudes.  We have all seen some pastors and other ministers like that, haven't we?   You know the ones - you disagree respectfully on something, and you get that condescending, baleful glare that says "Who are you to question me?"   God didn't give up on such people though; they gave up on Him, and He let them have their way.   Soon, with the absence of God being replaced with the idolatry of self , these people begin teaching things that are totally contrary to the Bible, the historic teaching of the Church, and some of their nonsense even defies common sense!  Their followers grow though, because they use their talents to deceive people into listening, and before long they are leading others to apostatize the faith.  Then, when such people end up behind the pulpits of our churches and the podiums of our college classrooms, as well as in denominational leadership, they next try to alienate and discredit the faithful Christians, thus marginalizing them.  Some of you know what I am talking about too - you have been there before, and you know that frustration of not being able to even feel at home in your own church, school, or other institution because the "delusion" being propagated is so pervasive that it makes your spirit grieve.   But, there is good news for you, which I want to close with now. 

All of the stuff we see in the world is happening for a reason, and although the apostasy we witness now almost daily in the Church is at times overwhelming, it needs to be looked at in a different light.   The faithful Remnant - those who love God and His teachings - are both being set apart as well as pruned themselves.   The "falling away" that II Timothy talks about is also for the Church's benefit - it is removing a lot of "dead wood" from the Church that shouldn't be there in the first place.  So, let them be "Nones" if they want; they have made that choice, and their dignity as fellow human persons compels us to respect that choice, no matter how it grieves us.  We need to see it as a time to maybe look inward, and begin to grow spiritually ourselves - we may have to do that in many cases in the privacy of our homes with our close families, but you will not believe how that will edify you and how much stronger your own Christian life will become.  Therefore, as Romans 8:28 reminds us, all things, even the nastiest situations, will work together for good to us who are called by God according to His purpose, and who love Him and His Word.  God bless and be with you until next time.  


Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 8 - "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."

When we approach this part of the Lord's Prayer, it can be really tough - all of us have either wronged someone ourselves, or we have been wronged by somebody, and forgiveness is a hard virtue to foster.  However, sometimes it is made more complicated than it should be by either allegorization or over-simplification, and people who approach it that way often find out they can't measure up to that standard.   There is good news though - you don't have to, because that is not the standard Jesus was talking about!  Reading Guardini's book at this stage has both affirmed some things I had begun to realize some time ago, as well as teaching me some new insights.  I am sharing some of those in the coming week with my parish Bible study group, but I am also going to share them here now with you.

On pages 63-64 of Guardini's text, he deals with what the various terms of this petition means, and he focuses on the word debt.  For many of us brought up on that particular translation (which both the KJV and Douay-Rheims read I believe) this is familiar to us.  My mother taught me the prayer that way when I was very young, and I have always said it like that up until fairly recently.  The way Guardini defines debt (from the Greek ophelilema, "that which is owed")   is "a failure in regard to something obligatory," and what that means is basically two things - we fail to meet an obligation we have to either God or our fellow man.  What is that classic way of defining the term "sin" - "missing the mark?"  In that case, the word debt fits well into the context of the prayer.  It also concurs with Romans 3:23, which reminds us that we all "have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."   In other words, we fail to meet the obligation of giving God his rightful place in our lives, and thus we fall into sin.  We see that on a national scale too - remember American educational institutions before and after 1963, the year they took Bible reading and prayer out of schools?   It was only 9 years after that when Roe v. Wade was passed, and along with replacing the Bible and prayer with the lie of evolution - you know, that man came from a cell, to a blob of gel, to an ape that smells; that lie! - as God was displaced so man began to devalue himself.   We now see the tainted fruit of that experiment, don't we?  Our current world is a picture of debt - debt accumulated frivolously by pursuing the lusts of the flesh.  And, Guardini addresses that too, because he talks some about what is called "Moral Law" - one application of that is the state, while the other is that which governs thought.  Action, he notes, must follow "Moral law" to prevent error; if it doesn't it goes wrong.  In terms of moral law, this petition of forgiveness makes little sense, and dare I add even less so in this day and age of moral relativism.  After all, one cannot ask to be forgiven by the laws of the state, can they?  Also, one cannot be asked to be forgiven by the laws of logic either - after all, those who think wrongly can only try to redeem themselves as best they can from their error and must own the consequences of their own wrongdoing.  However, with moral relativism that governs most of Western society these days (including that other fallacy called "political correctness") many people who think wrongly don't even understand they are thinking wrongly in the eyes of God - after all, these people justify "same-sex marriage" and other things that are clearly contrary to God's own commandments because they reason, "well, it is love, and love is love after all" (an argument I hear from these people ad nauseum by the way!) and of course, we must be "like Jesus" if we "don't judge lest we be judged," right?   See, that is what happens when a combination of man's logic and misunderstanding of what the Church actually teaches on these Scripture passages leads to, yet because they don't understand it properly, they err to the degree that they justify sin as something "good" - remember what Scripture says about the latter days - "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil...." (Isaiah 5:20, NKJV).  Therefore, we must understand what Jesus said as what He said, and not what we try to make it say.

Another translation of the Lord's Prayer renders the term trespasses rather than debts.  Guardini doesn't address that in his book, but I wanted to make mention of it here because so many of you reading this now may actually recite the Our Father using that terminology, and that is OK.  We need though to explore what a trespass is.  My Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines the word "trespass" as "a violation of moral or social ethics," and hence it has more of a connection with sin.  The reason Guardini didn't address this was that his text was written in 1932, and at that time the official Scripture translation of the Roman Catholic Church was the Douay-Rheims, which I actually find to be a valuable study translation myself.  Like the KJV, the DR renders the translation "debts." although also Guardini originally wrote the text in German, and in most of Europe the translation "trespass" is used, although the English-speaking world uses "debts."  It, I suppose, could be a minor issue of theological debate, but personally either translation is fine, as they both convey the same truth - sin is both failure and violation, in other words.  As good Anglicans, it was also important for us to understand the difference in terminologies too, as it aids in appreciating our own Book of Common Prayer better.

For the believer in Christ who has received His grace of forgiveness, this petition does not merely reflect an abstract moral law but rather is a living, vibrant part of our faith - it is the holy, the good, impressed upon our inmost souls.  Its source therefore is God, and it demands to be observed.  This is the way God originally created us, and is a vestige of our pre-Fall state as a race.  It therefore doesn't merely "evolve," as some godless academics would have us to believe, but is inherent in our very creation, but at the same time it is also obstructed by the Fall too.  God is of course himself essential goodness and wills for us to become good too - by praying "Thy will be done," the "gateway petition" to this entire prayer, we accept that desire to become better.  Therefore, when we sin, it is an action against this essential goodness.  Furthermore, although original sin was washed away in the font of Holy Baptism, we unfortunately still struggle with something called concupiscence, meaning the propensity (capacity) to commit sinful actions.  God therefore, when He demands of us that good be done, He is demanding what He Himself stands for - His own holiness is the good! The way Guardini puts this is like this - God demands Himself from man for His own sake.

Now, the idea of forgiveness, the tough part!  Revelation (meaning all of God's Word) tells us that the binding authority in the life of the Christian is the living, holy will of God.  This is meant for us as individual believers and is binding on us.  It therefore approaches us in our own unique existence.  The sovereign necessity of the Law obligates man's freedom without cancelling it (also called responsibility in lay terms!) but it only appears in its fulness when it is invested with the character of love.  The sternness of the legalistic aspect remains, but it is no longer an abstraction - it is now drawn into the vital intimacy of person to person, Creator to creature, and more personally the Father in heaven to each of us individually.  God's commandments (you can say the "Thou shalts" and "Thou shalt nots") therefore are the way in which He loves me.   They are the content of His love and at the same time the necessary premise that enables God to love each of us.  Therefore, rather than seeing these commands as restrictions, we should see them as boundaries set to protect us from those things which can destroy and devalue us as persons created in the image of God.

That being said, when I obey God's demand, it is more than just satisfying some legal rubric; it fulfills a relationship of love!  And, this does include, lest we forget, the perfection of every abstract law as well.  Its fruit is not merely the consciousness of a duty done or of merely a purer morality, but it is also a greater nearness and more loving participation in God Himself.  The consequences of disobeying that law is therefore a sin against God's love, and against my debt of love to God; it's ultimate fruit is alienation, enstrangement, and a drifting off into illusion, confusion, and death.

And, it is not merely a case of abstract law confronting "subject," but of something vital and living - the most holy God, lovingly concerned for man.  A new, creative dimension at this point now stands out in the relationship.  And, should failure happen (and on this earth, it inevitably will numerous times for each of us!) it is not in an abstract sphere of "law" and "subject," but rather the living sphere of love between "me" and "Thee."  Penitence is the way in which we become lovingly conscious of the debt of love we are obliged to God - penitence is in a real sense love related to debt.  Penitence is asking God to forgive our failures (sins) and God's love through it is therefore directed toward the creature that is "in debt" (guilty).

It must be remembered, as we discussed earlier, that everything depends on the sinner's response.  It depends upon the sinner returning to the bond of love from which he has divorced himself by his guilt.  The person asking forgiveness, therefore, should place himself in a state of love. And, there is a condition - "forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors!"  What this means is that we can always ask forgiveness, provided we are in the state of mind that makes such a petition reasonable.  Moral shame is not that motivation, and neither is a fear of evil consequences.  Only love, that love we see clearly when we have the charity to ask ourselves how we react to fellow man who wrongs us.  However, this doesn't necessarily mean that we have to physically and literally say the words "I forgive you," for at times our offender may think he has done a good thing in offending us, and may not see the need.  It does mean however that we have an attitude of forgiveness which is readily and freely dispensed when our offender is prepared to receive it.  In short, not everyone may be as ready to receive forgiveness as you are ready to forgive, and we must exercise good discernment in that regard.

As Anglican Catholics, one part of our weekly Mass includes what is called the "Summary of the Law," and essentially it is Matthew 22:37-39 - "Jesus said to him. 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the Law and Prophets."  The important question to ask here is "who is my neighbor?"  It is not necessarily a neighbor in a literal sense, in that the person discussed may not live in the house next door to you literally.  Your "neighbors" are therefore those people you interact with on a daily basis.  It is also important that to love our neighbors doesn't necessarily mean we have to like them - some people, let's face it, are just unpleasant!  Although we may strongly dislike someone, the love of Christ must be allowed to shine through us so we can deal with such people gracefully.   Also, remember that in their being qua being (their existence for virtue of who God created them to be) all persons are good - even Satan in being is good insofar as he was originally created by God, but Satan became evil and nasty because of himself, not because of who God created him to be; you see the difference?  The negatives in us therefore come from the Fall and sin therefore corrupts what God intended to be created as good.

Now comes the paradox - how can the first commandment (love the Lord God) be like the second (loving our neighbor)??  They are in reality one and the same - I can love God only if I am prepared to be what He created me to be, which is part of a community, a Church.  Love therefore flows from Him to me, and from me to others.  And, sin can only be overcome by union with God in love.  When someone sins against us personally, that person is in the same situation with me as I was once with God.   Therefore, if I erect a wall of unforgiveness against my offender, I also erect it as a barrier between me and God.  And, both (the wall between us and our offender, and us and God) are one and the same wall.  Sin can only be overcome by union with God by love.  When we come to God with our sin, we should test ourselves whether we are in that condition of love ourselves (self-examination, which is also good preparation for receiving any sacramental grace too).  Love is a matter of requiring faith in that God's love for me and my response to that love are grace and mystery that can only be devoutly hoped for.  Therefore, if I sincerely forgive my offenders, this is my pledge that I may believe and hope that I love God, and remember what Scripture says - "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."  As it relates to this petition, I therefore can have confidence that I am in God's love by the measure that my forgiveness of others is in sincerity.  The more genuinely I overcome my own inner resistance, hatred, and aversion of my offender, the more deeply I can allow real, genuine, and liberating forgiveness to reach down to the depths of the wrong my offenders have done me.  Hence, the more confidently I may hope to be in God's love, and to have my own plea for forgiveness heard.  Summarily, you shall forgive others as you wish God to forgive you!

We need to sincerely confess our culpability before God, a fact that cannot be taken for granted.  For the person who has obviously and palpably sinned, it means a sincere admission of guilt for that sin.  Self-justification of any sin is not an option,  in other words.  For the person living the supposed "good life," it is a realization of how paltry this "goodness" actually is.  All of our perceived "goodness" is often tainted with egoism and narrowness, insincerity, and mixed motives (or, "what will I gain from this?"  Well, maybe your eternal soul if you get your attitude right!).  "Being good" is therefore only due to favorable circumstances (contrary to what Robert Schuller or Joel Osteen may say) and only when God tests can the measure of goodness be accurate.

This petition of the Our Father therefore warns us in several ways.  First, we need to acknowledge our guilt for sins we have definitely committed.   Second, we need to recognize the magnitude of wrongdoing we often regard as trifling (except when we are on the receiving end - hmmm!).   Third, we need to see the sins that lie under our supposed virtues and self-righteousness.   Fourth, we need to realize that we have not only committed sins, but that we are sinners who stand guilty in the sight of God.  Fifth, we are not to withdraw ourselves from the masses of humanity into an aristocracy of self-righteousness.  And sixth, we don't only pray about our individual guilt, but also about the guilt that encompasses us all - that God may open our eyes to it, break its spell, and help us to rise above it aand return to Him.

Being a Christian entails continually rising up out of our guilt to come to God and beg Him for forgiveness, thus being gradually transformed by this continually renewed forgiveness.  As we see in the next section, this also involves another factor - temptation.  God be with you all until next time.


Monday, May 11, 2015

The Lord's Prayer Part 7 - "Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread"

We have prayed the Lord's Prayer many times, and many times, we all draw the same conclusion from its words.  How many of you reading this, for instance, would associate the "daily bread" in this petition with providing for our physical needs?  It is only natural to do just that, and many times I have as well.  God does provide for our physical needs if we trust Him to do so, and therefore it is not wrong to even think this is what we are praying for.  One of the titles of God found in Scripture, as a matter of fact, is YHWH Jireh, which literally translates as "I am He who provides" (as a good Anglican would understand it, Divine Providence; more on that momentarily).   Also, there is Phillipians 4:19, in which the Apostle St. Paul reminds us that "God shall supply all of our needs according to His riches in glory."  As I myself can attest from many times (some even quite recent!), this is something God naturally does - He is good about providing for His own, and stories in Scripture confirm that.  Note, for example, the story of Elijah in I Kings 19, when after a huge spiritual victory over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, a wrathful and wicked Queen Jezebel had put a price on Elijah's head, forcing him into the wilderness fleeing for his life.  Despondent, Elijah wanted to just die, and in his depression he laid and slept under a broom tree.  When he awoke, it says "Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals and a jar of water.  So he ate and drank, and lay down again" (I Kings 19:6),  Then, in verse 7, "the angel of the Lord came back the second time, and touched him, and said, 'Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you."  It says later that the nourishment from that supernaturally-provided meal sustained him in his travels for the better of 40 days!  Another example we see of this is Elijah's disciple Elisha - remember, in 2 Kings 4, the story of the prophet's widow?  This poor widow-woman only had a little oil in a jar, but Elisha told her to gather up every vessel she could find, and when she did, she was able to fill them all, sell the oil from them, and use the proceeds to pay her bills.  Many, many stories of the providential care abound in Scripture, and it is a cardinal truth that this is what God does for His own.  But, rather than being wrong about it when it talks about "our daily bread" in the Lord's prayer, it is just not the context in which this petition is talking, and therefore that is what we are going to discuss in this study.

Guardini, in his text, first notes that the life of the person who lives by what was brought into the world by Christ is a daily exercise of faith that requires a spiritual sustenance of its own.  Therefore, as Guardini notes, one cannot separate the two parts of this petition from one another - "our daily bread" cannot be understood without the precedent "give us this day," in other words.  If we try to parse this petition too much, the whole thing begins to drift into irrelevance, but together their very simplicity opens up a bottomless well of understanding from which its refreshing waters can be drunk from infinitely.   Guardini also notes, and I would concur, that this petition is often encountered from the lips of the half-believing, indifferent, and unbelieving.  It is often used as a "liberation theology" rallying point, manipulated by certain "theologians" to advance their own agendas for things they themselves don't practice.  The reason for this abuse and indifference, I feel, is because it is not being understood in its proper context.  We think so much about sustaining the flesh that we often forget that Jesus wants to transform us spiritually from within, and while it is not wrong to trust in Jesus for material necessities, as we all have to eat and survive, often we use the wrong things to justify that propensity to seek provision for the temporal at the expense of the spiritual.  This petition, "give us this day our daily bread," has a mystery as well as a hazard - it embodies an expression of that faith that literally "overcomes the world."

So, what is "our daily bread" referring to?  It is time to do a little Greek word study.  In the original Greek translations of the Gospels, the passage dealing with the Lord's Prayer, in particular this particular petition, was expressed with the Greek word epiousiws, which comes from two Greek root words (hepi meaning "on, upon, or above" and ousia meaning "being, substance, or nature.") which when put together can be translated as "supernatural" or "supersubstantial."  As Brant Pitre, in his seminal text Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist (New York:  Doubleday, 2011) notes on pages 93-96 of his text, this "daily bread" is above all substances and surpasses all creatures - it is the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ Himself!  Guardini also notes that if we were to literally translate this, it would actually read something like this - "Give us our supernatural Bread for the coming day."  Now, although we have established that Jesus is not merely talking about the Parker House rolls we have with our fried chicken and Brussels sprouts for dinner, this must have a more profound meaning, and we now get into that, as it opens up a whole new dimension concerning the mystery of Divine Providence.

Providence, as Guardini notes, is the innermost mystery of Christ.   The idea of "world order" is discussed in Guardini's book, and as we go back to a more Thomistic approach, remember what Aquinas taught about "God's Two Books" - Nature and Revelation.  Both are authored by the same One - God Himself - but the "order" discussed is a fundamental principle of Thomistic thought - Revelation (Scripture, the Word of God Incarnate, etc.) perfects Nature and brings it to proper order, provided we obey God and seek as we discussed in the "gateway" petition, that God's will be done, both on earth (the text of the Book of Nature) as it is in heaven (where God permeates).  However, what Jesus means here in the prayer we have recited so often at every Mass and Morning Prayer, Evensong ,and other liturgical services, is that this "order" cannot come from the world and its natural ideas; rather, it comes from the throne of God Himself (in heaven).  The basic philosophical law of non-contradiction affirms that Nature cannot in any way contradict Revelation, and we see what happens when people try to make them conflict (the false lie of evolution, for instance).  What Jesus says therefore of Providence is right out of Matthew's Gospel, when Jesus Himself admonishes us to "seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things shall be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33, NKJV).    When we see this verse, we think of "righteousness" in terms of justice, and that all these things will be added in addition to that desired righteousness.  If we seek the kingdom of God first, all else will fall into place then as Romans 8:28 says, "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."  The ultimate purpose we are to have from God is to desire that His will be done in our lives, and if we seek that, then what happens is that a "new order" begins to emerge - it emerges if we enter into an understanding with God to care for His kingdom, and if we do so, then God cares for us in a new, creative way.  And, although the fallen order that is blighted with the sting of sin is often careless in regard to man (perhaps nature remembers the mess our ancestors Adam and Eve afflicted it with in the Garden, and it hasn't forgotten that!), the life in it begins to rally to us once we begin to manifest a microcosm of the kingdom of God in our own lives.  Therefore, in truth, this is a great miracle of natural life.  And, in truth, a new creation arises from the strength that we can achieve those things from the freely given love of God Himself.  

Hence, "Providence" then.  Providence means something great and mysterious.  And, it means that structure of existence which comes into being around the person who makes God's concerns his own ("Thy will be done").  And, it is tranformational - the world around such a person is impacted in such a way that it becomes different ("Thy kingdom come" on a personal level). And, it comes from the very heart of God Himself.  

This inward transformation we have just discussed leads us to a very important understanding then of "our daily bread."  When we pray this petition, we are in reality praying for the grace to receive the Sacrament of the Eucharist!   John 6:54 records Jesus telling us that "My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink."  Therefore, when we ask to be given our daily supernatural bread, we are praying for Christ to be part of us!  It is therefore Jesus, through the mystery of the Eucharist, who conforms, transforms, and shapes us in such a way that we make God's will our own.  As Pitre notes, Jesus Himself taught the disciples to ask God for that miraculous food that the Messiah Himself would give as they journeyed toward the heavenly Zion in this pilgrimage of faith called the Christian life.  And, it is necessary to bestow the grace that we need to pray the other petitions that follow in the Lord's Prayer too - you begin to see how all of this fits together, and it has a flow to it which is smooth and builds upon each precept before it.  Interesting enough, we also see Revelation perfecting Nature in this way too, as the Eucharist is a perfect picture of that.   Frank Tipler, himself a scientific scholar, even addresses this from the point of view of physics in his excellent text, The Physics of Christianity (New York:  Doubleday, 2007).  The doctrine of Transubstantiation, or that the species of bread and wine literally become the Body and Blood of Christ (which we as Anglo-Catholics also believe), is known in scientific terms as quantum coherence (Tipler, p. 239).  What Tipler means by this is that the miraculous is confirmed (not contradicted) by the laws of physics via something he defines as the Second Hypothesis of the Singularity.  What that means essentially is that the molecules (electrons and protons as well) in the Eucharistic Host remain indistinguishable from any other bread, but through the process of quantum coherence - that means that the Host is transformed, but maintains coherence in its chemical makeup.  Jesus' divine nature is therefore the Second Hypothesis of the Singularity, and it is He who establishes the coherence with the Host, and thus He becomes our daily supernatural bread, the Bread of Life!  And, scientifically speaking, one coherent quantum state then has been replaced by another, while still maintaining the form of the first.  At some point later, when we actually discuss the Eucharist in more detail, I will be revisiting Tipler's book on this, as it has some profound things to say but must also be digested in small doses, as Tipler speaks with the mind of a scientist instead of a theologian, yet again he demonstrates how Revelation perfects Nature, and the Eucharist is the prime example of that perfection, as is the Incarnation itself.  

On that, we have studied now what "our daily bread" really is, and why we should desire to pray for it.  We are encouraged to seek to have Christ dwell within us, and as Catholic Christians He does so in a very real way with the Eucharist.   And, the more often we partake of it, and the more serious we commit ourselves to frequent partaking of the Body and Blood of our Lord, He becomes a real part of us and it aids in our own transformation, as well as bringing us closer to fulfilling the will of the Lord in our lives.  So, as you approach the Lord's prayer, remember that it points us right back to Jesus, and also to the mystery we receive of His Body and Blood in the Eucharistic mystery.  And, as we transform, we are better able to do those other things the Lord's Prayer teaches us, such as mastering what it means to forgive others and to seek forgiveness, which we will be discussing next time.  God bless you all as you read this, and please feel free to be part of the next lesson too.