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.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 7 - Judgment

The word judgment is one that doesn't sit too well in the bellies even of many Christians, much less the non-Christian psyche.  It is something that isn't pleasant to talk about frankly.  However, it is integral to understand the true nature of judgment in order to understand Revelation, and as we shall see in this study, it also aids in preparing us to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Eucharist properly.  Again, this is based on Dr. Hahn's excellent text, The Lamb's Supper, but is not a word-for-word study on that book.  As mentioned in the previous studies, this series uses the text Dr. Hahn has written as a sort of skeleton to build upon, and there may be items in this study that may read differently from Dr. Hahn's actual text if you are following along with it.

In traditional Catholic eschatology, there are four components which are properly called "The Four Last Things" for catechetical purposes, and they are as follows:

1.  Heaven
2.  Hell
3.  Death
4.  Judgment

The fourth - Judgment - will be the focus of this study, as it serves to bridge the others.

Throughout the Bible, we see that God's justice, like His mercy, is talked about a lot - it is important to remember that Scripture wants us to understand that God is both righteous and loving.  Justice is an integral part of God's self-revelation to us, and to deny the force of divine judgement is to diminish God, and ultimately our own status as His children.  Also, rather than being an opposing force, judgment is in reality an expression of God's mercy - an act of divine judgment is in itself an act of mercy too.  Therefore, in the context of understanding the Book of Revelation, it is important to first understand the idea of covenant, the bond that ties us to God the Father.

To reiterate, a covenant is a sacred family bond which God gradually has extended over generations to more and more people.  And, it is an ancient concept that we hear a lot of in Scripture.  The covenant was a sacred bond in ancient cultures, including that of the Hebrews, that had a juridical dimension that often was officially sealed with a sacrifice of some sort.  When two people swore an oath of covenant before an elder, it was often with the sacrifice of an animal such as a bull - the animal was ritually killed, and then it was divided in half.  Each partner in the covenant had to walk between the two halves of the slaughtered animal's carcass, and this signified that if either party violated that covenant, then the judgment/consequence of that violation would be upon the offending party.  Which leads to the second part of the covenant, which entailed a law of some sort.  The law was not meant to be merely an arbitrary act of power, but it was an expression of paternal wisdom and love.  And, it reflected the covenants God made with His people over the generations too.  If we violate God's covenant with us, its fruit is sin, but sin is more than just an infraction of a mere law - the word sin in the original Greek was the word hamartia, which was a term often associated with archery which signified "missing a mark."  In archery, there is a target you aim for, and if you miss, the danger is that the sharp missile you are shooting could potentially injure or kill someone standing by.  Sin is like that too - if we miss doing what God commanded us to do, we end up hurting ourselves or someone else; sin has far-reaching consequences, in other words.  And, those consequences are the fruit of sin - broken lives, broken homes, etc.   Sin, therefore, is rooted in our refusal or lack of focus in keeping the covenant God made with us - we therefore refuse to love God as He has loved us.  And, as a result, when we willfully commit sin, we willfully abandon our status as children of God, and the divine life of Christ in us is extinguished as a result.  So, God needs to get our attention to get us "back on the mark," and the way He often does this is through divine judgment.

Judgment is an expression of God's love, but we choose to receive it via our disobeying His commands and violating His covenant relationship with us.  Therefore, what is often called a "curse" of God upon us is in reality divine judgment for failing in some area to fulfill that which God has called us, and these "curses" are not an expression of hatred, but rather of fatherly love and discipline.  Like some medications we are prescribed by a doctor to treat serious injury or illness, these judgments often hurt in order to heal, and also like medications, they can have some severe side effects until they do what they were meant to do.   They produce a suffering, therefore, which is remedial, restorative, and redemptive.   Let us now look at some Scriptures.

Job 5:17 tells us that "happy is the man whom God corrects.  Therefore do not despise the chastening of the Lord."   Chastening is another term used in Scripture to describe temporal judgment God allows in this life to bring us to redemption and restoration.  If we don't resist the chastening, there is a promise to us that "because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth." (Revelation 3:10, NKJV).   What that means is that if we endure our trials we face now, and persevere through them (and we will have those if we haven't already!) it will strengthen us in righteousness, and place us in the hedge of grace God establishes around us.  Therefore chastening, and the trials it can produce, is not necessarily something to be resisted, but rather an expression of the divine love of God for us.  For those who are parents, consider your own children.  If you live next to a busy street, you give a commandment to your kids to not go into that street unsupervised, and you tell them that for their own protection - after all, I don't believe you nor they would look forward to becoming "road pizza" from car mowing them over!  If they disobey that rule, and survive it, you as a parent have a punishment you administer to them such as a spanking, grounding, or a revocation of some privelege.  Your punishment of your kids is not done because you hate them, but because they violated a command you gave them that jeopardized their safety.  God operates concerning us like that too - he gives His commands for our own benefit, not because He doesn't want us to enjoy a good quality of life.  God is love, but  "he who does not love does not know God, for God is love" (I John 4:8, NKJV).  And, we must remember that God's love is all consuming, as God is ultimately love but also "our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29).  God's fatherhood, therefore, doesn't lesson the severity of His wrath nor does it lower the standard of His justice.  Although the secular man wishes to portray God as merely a judge who is eager to mete out punishment to transgressors (some Christians too have this misconception), it must be remembered that a loving father such as God demands more from His children than a magistrate demands from defendants in a courtroom.  And, to temper that, a good father also displays mercy, an attribute God, as our Father, also displays to us.  

The bottom line to the discussion so far is that St. John's vision recorded in Revelation is not only sacramental/liturgical (which it is), nor is it only prophetic (which it also is), but it is very much a juridical allegory, as the book has as its setting a courtroom scenario.  For one thing, we read of "two witnesses" in Revelation 11.   There is some debate over who these two witnesses are;  some say (as does Dr. Hahn) that they are Moses and Elijah.  The reason for this, as we see in Dr. Hahn's text, is that Revelation 11:3 seems to allude that Moses represents the whole of the Law (Torah) while Elijah represents the whole of the Prophets.  Another position, however, which I would take is that the witnesses are Enoch and Elijah, and there are two reasons for that.  First, neither of these men died on earth, but both were assumed while alive by God Himself into heaven.   Therefore, the witnesses haven't experienced mortal death yet, but they do in Revelation.  A second reason why this is a viable interpretation is that Elijah in essence represents the nation of Israel, while Enoch is a representation of the Gentile nations as a witness of God regarding each.  At any rate, both interpretations of this come to the same conclusion - the witnesses testify that the people of God (Israel and later the Church) know full well the obligations of their covenant with God, and are now accountable for that knowledge.  However, the two witnesses, be they Elijah and Moses or Elijah and Enoch,  are by no means the only ones.

Revelation talks of "other witnesses," and the Greek word used for "witness" here is mrtuo, which renders in English the word martyr. This group of witnesses, in Revelation 11, call for a swift execution of sentence, and they testify (witness) with their very lives - as the great Church Father Tertullian wrote, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church."  And, as we read further, we note that these witnesses were the same John saw as "under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held." (Revelation 6:9).  At this point, we see a direct tie to the Mass, for in many churches throughout the ages, this Scripture has given a foundation to a tradition which is carried on to this day - under the altar where the Eucharist is celebrated in many parishes is often a reliquary which contains a relic of the patron saint - often a martyr - after whom the parish is named.  The reason that martyred saint's relic is found under the altar of the Lord is simple - it bears its own testimony of faith to us, reminding us that standing up for the Lord can risk one's life, but it is worth it because upon that testimony the Church is established, a testimony Jesus Himself modeled for us in his own Crucifixion.  This is very important for us to remember, especially should our nation face its own time of judgment for its transgressions.

So, what is the testimony of these martyrs in Revelation about??  It is a testimony against Jerusalem, but why?  Going by Dr. Hahn's text, Jerusalem is on trial, and God is its judge (Rev. 20:11).  And, God is assisted by angels seated on 20 thrones (Rev. 20:4) who are given executive mandate by God Himself to execute the sentence of the judgment, and that sentence is recorded throughout Revelation's chapters.  The "sentence," if you will, is portrayed by John in the terms of what Dr. Hahn calls a "terrible Passover."  What he means by that is that the chalice of God's wrath is poured out in 7 libations which represent 7 plagues - a liturgical action.  We read more about this in Revelation 15-17, and note that within this liturgical setting, the angels serve as priests and are pictured carrying harps and singing what is called "The Song of Moses" - "Great and marvelous are your works, Lord God almighty!  Just and true are Your ways, O King of the Saints!  Who shall not fear you, O Lord, and glorify Your name?  For You alone are holy.  For all nations shall come and worship before You, for your judgments have been made manifest" (Revelation 15:3-4, NKJV).  This is a liturgy that means death to God's enemies, but salvation to His Bride, the Church.   There is a serious lesson here for us today too.  When we often partake of Communion at Mass, many of us go through the motions without understanding that what we are receiving is the most holy Body and Blood of our Lord, and depending on the manner or attitude we receive it, the Eucharist can be a two-edged sword.  It can bring life to the faithful, but death to the apostate, and we are given that choice in how we approach the Body and Blood - life or death?   My spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, talks about this at length in his book Sacramentalized but Not Evangelized (Destin, FL:  St. Symeon the New Theologian Press, 2005) on pages 104-105 when he discusses the implications of how we receive the Eucharist and approach the Lord's Table in this present time.  Fr. Eusebius reminds us in his book of the grave consequences of receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in an unworthy manner, and cites I Corinthians 11:29, which warns that "he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's Body."   Therefore, the question arises - how does one receive worthily?   First, being "worthy" to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord doesn't imply perfection on our part, and thanks be to God for that!   But, the Eucharist must be received with the deep conviction of Christ's sanctified love for us on Calvary for our sins - He loves us with an everlasting love.  Therefore, it is important to approach the Lord's Table in humility and sincerity, with a sincere belief that one is truly receiving Jesus when one receives the Eucharist.  The Eucharist is offered for forgiveness of our sins, and for the healing and restoration of our whole being.  And, as Fr. Eusebius points out, the message of the pulpit (which we call the Homily and Lessons) must proclaim what the altar celebrates.  In other words, it is the "Threefold Cord of Catholicity" proposed by Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (the Word Proclaimed, the Word Celebrated, and the Office of the Church which authenticates both) enacted in the setting of the Mass.  

Now about this word "wrath."  First, we need to look at the psychology of sin.   To start, God gave Israel His revelation, yet the people time and again did not honor nor thank Him for that - rather, they suppressed the truth by killing the messengers, including Jesus Himself.   They also initially persecuted the Church too.  Therefore, "the wrath of God is revealed against them."   And as a consequence of that,  "therefore God also gave them up to uncleannesss, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves." (Romans 1:24, NKJV).  And, as far as their minds were concerned, God "will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie." (II Thessalonians 2:11).  As Christians we have an obligation to resist sin, as well as the enemy of our souls who tries to entice us with it, as we are commanded to "resist the devil, and he shall flee from you." (James 4:7, NKJV).  If we fail in this, it becomes sin, and if we don't repent of the sin, God will let us go our way - He gave us free will, so He doesn't force us to work righteousness in our lives.  But, we do suffer consequences if we indulge in sinful activity, and it can ultimately cost us our eternal soul!  This is why we also need to dispense with some incorrect theology at this point - contrary to popular thinking and some ignorance among even Christians, God is not the one who sends us to hell; we send ourselves if we don't obey Him.  John 3:16 reminds us that "God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son, and whosoever believe in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life."  Hell was not even meant for us, but rather Scripture reminds us it was "prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).  Yet, due to our free will, some among us chose a life of sin, and as a result such people become slaves of Satan and will share his fate.  The Gospel message has at its core salvation from this fate, and only through the shed Blood and broken Body of Jesus Christ do we receive that salvation.  Again, this is why we must take care in how we approach the altar of God to receive the Eucharist - it could imperile our very souls if we are not careful.

Sin is at its nature a type of decay - it rots and corrodes our values, and through it our perception of what is "good" and what is "evil" is twisted (Isaiah 5:20).   In sin, we renounce God and His will for our lives, and in a very real sense we fellowship with Satan.  We therefore replace the "gateway petition" of the Lord's Prayer - "Thy Will Be Done" - with a new credo:  this one was formulated in the early 20th century by notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley and is called the Wiccan Rede, and what it says is this - "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law."  Although that particular formulation is attributed to the wicked man Crowley, the philosophy behind it goes back to the first sin in the Garden.  In modern times, this credo has taken a new expression we have heard as a mantra ad nauseum by progressives and secularists since the 1960's, and that would be "if it feels good, do it."   The philosophy this thinking embodies is satanic to its core, and is called utilitarianism.   Utilitarianism dethrones God as the center of our lives and sets the individual up as a "god" to his or her self, and in doing so it also devalues and depersonalizes others, making sin justifiable and evil "good" because it "feels good."  When a person gets to that point, only something drastic like a personal calamity can save them from themselves at times, and that is where God's mercy is often revealed in his wrath.   In reality, it is probably the most merciful thing God can do in such a situation, and it often takes tragedy to force us to refocus our priorities in life.  A good example of this from recent times is evangelist Nicky Cruz, the violent gangbanger in New York City that Rev. David Wilkerson lead to Christ in the late 1950's, as is documented in the spiritual classic The Cross and the Switchblade.   If God works in this way with the individual, how much more will he with a nation that falls into sin?   Indeed, the Bible chronicles much of Israel's history from the time Moses crossed the Red Sea in Exodus all the way up to the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman Emperor Titus in AD 70, and these national disasters conveyed to Israel a message that God was sending judgment to call His people back to Him.  Although in many cases judgment - whether personal or national tragedy - is inevitable, the preferred response God wants is to forsake sin of our own volition rather than be lost without hope of repentance (Mark 8:36).  And, it must be remembered too tht although many people who read  Revelation are often frightened by its judgments, it must be understood that God is allowing these things because He loves us - I know, and I have thought this too, that you may be saying, "Well, that is a funny way to show love - glad He doesn't hate us!"   True, but from God's perspective, here is His plan - if we allow the world and its pleasures to rule us as a "god," the best thing the true God can do is to remove the foundation of that idolatry (yes, that is what it is!) from our lives.  Years ago, a Foursquare Gospel lady minister by the name of Arleta Keck wrote a very good book called Come Into My Chambers (Los Angeles:  Walk With Him Books, 1982), and the premise of that book was based on a word God gave her which she taught in a series of thirteen messages called "In the Chamber of the King."  In this book, Rev. Keck compares the various aspects of the spiritual walk to the rooms in a house, what she calls a "parable," and one of the rooms she describes on pages 65-66 is "the Laundry Room."  She writes, "When we yield to the Lord, we are blessed by every test we go through.  The big testing time comes when we begin to use the gifts of the Spirit (for purposes of this text and to "Anglicanize" it a little, I am going to interpret this as being the service we are called to in the Church)...As soon as we use the gifts of the Spirit, someone (by this, it could mean either human opposition or Satan) is going to come along and say 'You're not in order"...God tests us to see if we are going to pay the price to stand with Him.  He wants us to know He is using us.  When we do for God, we are never going to get 100% approvals from people.  That's what hurts! (Continuing p. 67) Many times in the receiving of the mighty works, I believe we need to stay long enough to hear the instructions of Jesus, regardless of how they may sound to us.  We may have received the release, the deliverance, and the anointing upon our lives, but we need to wait and obey the Lord."   Rev. Keck is correct in this, for one type of disobedience is not listening fully to God when He does give us direction, and in this the potential of sin arises when we begin to worship the vocation over Him who endowed it to us, and that too is a form of idolatry.  How many ministers, for instance, want the fancy cars, nice titles, etc., but they don't want to commit to the task God has charged them with?  We see it all the time on "religious television," in particular this abomination called the "Prosperity Gospel."  When we get out of focus with even something we think we are doing for God, He can take that from us for a season in order to get our attention, and that can hurt as well.  This is why a life of prayer and Bible study is so important, especially for those who serve the Church in any capacity. 

The final hope though is actually something encouraging.  First, it must be remembered that to live a good life doesn't mean being free from trouble, as Dr. Hahn writes on page 111 of his text, but rather to be free from needless worry.  Bad things can and do happen to all of us, even us Christians - we are told even in Scripture that "He makes His sun rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:45, NKJV), but for the practicing Christian even disaster can be for good, as "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28, NKJV), because they purify and sanctify us as we go through this pilgrimage of our Christian life.  And, we also don't have to wait until the Last Judgment or death to be judged - we approach the judgment seat of Christ every time we attend Mass, before we partake of the Lord's Table.  This is why we have things in our Book of Common Prayer such as the General Confession, an Examination of Conscience, and probably one of the most humbling petitions of the Mass which we say just before receiving the Eucharist - Domine non sum dignus, or "Lord I am not worthy that thou should come under my roof, but say the word only, and my soul shall be healed."  This prayer is also found in the Gospels as well, as it was the very thing the Roman centurion said to Jesus in Matthew 8:8 when he approached in humility to ask the Lord's healing mercies for his beloved servant.  And, as Christ had compassion on the Roman centurion, so He will have compassion upon us should we approach Him in the right spirit and attitude.  God be with you until next time. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 6 - Apocalypse Then AND Now!

Although Dr. Hahn's text The Lamb's Supper is the primary text for this study, it is not exclusively a study that follows that text 100%.  On some things, I may have a different perspective than Dr. Hahn, in other areas some things need to be "Anglicanized" for my parish audience who initially were given these lessons, and on other things I have added supplemental information to Dr. Hahn's material that I feel is relevant to the discussion.  So, lest one thinks this study is a word-for-word lesson plan on Dr. Hahn's text, let me clarify that his book is the primary text for this study, and therefore provides a sort of "skeleton" for the actual lesson itself.  The reason I mention this sort of disclaimor is twofold.  First, for those who read Dr. Hahn's book and then compare it to my studies here, you may find yourself a little confused because it is going to look different.  Second, it relates to this particular lesson in that Dr. Hahn takes one position, and I take another while incorporating his into it.  That being said, let us begin then.

First and foremost, please keep in mind that Revelation is rightly understood through a futuristic lens, and I definitely subscribe to a futuristic interpretation of the book.  However, although that is definitely true, it must also be understood that the futurist aspect of Revelation is not its primary emphasis.   As Dr. Hahn has eloquently shown us already, there is also a sacramental dimension to this enigmatic book of Scripture, and we will see later that both the futuristic and sacramental can and do converge in such a way that it makes what is often considered to be a hard-to-understand book of the Bible make more sense.  Also, futurists tend to as well get off on some tangents when it comes to Revelation - setting dates, attempting to identify who the Antichrist is, etc.  I like what Pentecostal evangelist and a distant relative of mine, Perry Stone, once said when he noted that he once knew who the Antichrist was until someone shot him!  However, although we cannot know the identity of the Antichrist until his time comes, there is little doubt that a spirit of antichrist has been in operation on the earth for centuries - evil men such as Nero, Sultan Abdul-Hamid, Adolf Hitler, Stalin, the leaders of ISIS, and others have manifested that well.  But, to try to identify dates and people is missing the point of the whole story in Revelation, and for that, we need to take a basic course in orthodox Scriptural hermeneutics.  Last year, when I was taking my Theology of the Church course in my graduate program at Franciscan University of Steubenville, I had the privilege of sitting under one of the most dynamic and sound theologians I have ever had the privilege of meeting, Dr. Regis Martin.  Dr. Martin explained quite simply the historic "Four-Fold Hermeneutic" of Holy Scripture that the Church has historically used, and it works like this:

1.  The Literal Sense - This describes a historic person, place, or event, and is foundational. ("the obvious")
2. The Allegorical Sense - This reveals to us truth about Jesus Christ, or doctrine in general ("what we believe")
3. The Moral Sense - This reveals truth about the moral life ("what we do")
4. The Anagogical Sense - This reveals truth about the destiny of our souls ("where we are going")

Revelation presents a sort of unique dilemma however in that despite the foundational attributes of the literal sense, it can be difficult to ascertain and can foray into the controversial if one attempts to do so without first "studying to show oneself approved."  As a matter of fact, Revelation is often dismissed in fear and confusion because people who read it can easily come to the conclusion that it reads like the script to a bad 1960's "acid trip."  However, God has this enigmatic book in the Bible for a reason, despite the attempts of some over the ages to discard it, and there is truth to be found in its words.  In the vision St. John had which inspired Revelation, the literal and spiritual merge, and much of what John did witness in his vision which inspired Revelation is spiritual reality rather than natural reality.  For instance, take the Beast in Revelation 13 (which mirrors a similar vision Daniel had in Daniel 7) - the average reader knows such a creature doesn't actually exist, and the Church has correctly understood that to mean a symbol of the political power behind the empires of history.  I would go a step further though in saying that this Beast in Revelation 13 may be the actual demonic principality that drove these powers, and as such it could be seen a real spiritual entity, but that is my own interpretation and doesn't necessarily reflect the general consensus of Christian thought.  Which leads to this point - several hermeneutical approaches can be simultaneously true at the same time!  Also, although the symbolism of things like the Beast in Revelation 13 are of interest, and they accurately (I believe) document prophetic events, the real message of Revelation which needs to be our object of focus is that it offers encouragement to Christians of all ages who undergo tribulation and persecution, and that message transcends time - it offers encouragement regarding present trials, but it is also a voice from the past to the martyrs of the coming Great Tribulation that God is still God, and He is ultimately in control even when Satan's evil rages upon the earth.  Therefore, on one level, Dr. Hahn is correct in his interpretation that the literal sense of the book is primarily about the fall of Jerusalem around the year AD 70, and he is correct in that to a degree.  However there is this word soon - we see that from the outset in Revelation 1:1, and it reflects on a good observation I heard a Protestant speaker, Dr. Mark Hitchcock, say once when he noted that we as Christians have been in the "last days" since the Ascension of Christ into heaven at the end of Matthew 28, but today we live in the latter part of the last days.  "Soon" can and does mean the Second Coming for sure, but it also speaks about the end of a world, not just the world - the "Old Covenant" has been completed in the person of Jesus, and a "New Covenant" has been instituted by Him.  And, although the Greek word Parousia is often used exclusively in relation to the Second Coming, the original meaning of this word is "presence," and therefore from that perspective Jesus' Parousia is also a real presence, and thus when we receive His Body and Blood in the Eucharist, it is a real and abiding presence which gives us hope for the day when we can be with Him face-to-face.   That is why, as we have emphasized many times in this study, the Church is the kingdom of God now but not yet, and it is therefore the place of the Parousia at every Mass.  This then would even give an eschatological dimension we haven't really seen to the doctrine of the Real Presence as we Catholic Christians believe it, and it makes an appreciation for this crowning sacrament of the Church more pronounced.  

The next section of this chapter in his book Dr. Hahn subtitles "Of Whores and Wars," and what he is referring to is the dychotomy between the whore riding the beast in Revelation 17 and the "woman clothed with the sun" in Revelation 12.   Dr. Hahn interprets these two women as being the "old Jerusalem" (the "Whore" of Revelation 17) being replaced by the "New Jerusalem" (the "Bride" described in Revelation 12 as a "woman clothed with the sun").  His reasoning for coming to this interpretation is that the "Old Jerusalem" was the locus of much of the persecution of the early Christians, as intially the Christians were viewed as sort of a heretical cult by the Jews, and they were treated as such.  It wasn't until after AD 70 that pagan persecution of Christians took prominence, and much of that was also directed at Jews as well.  This is a valid interpretation, but again it is not primary in that the Church has historically understood Revelation 17 in particular to be an apostate religious system that attacks the Remnant Church during the reign of the Antichrist, but perhaps the legalistic Jewish persecutors foreshadowed that, so both interpretations again can be complimentary instead of contradictory, as we will see with much of Revelation's focus.  And, lest an anti-Semitic or "Replacement Theology" justification evolves from an incomplete hermeneutic of such passages (as it unfortunately has at times), it needs to be understood that in the end, the "old" (meaning natural Israel, the Jewish people) will become complete in the "New."  Roy Schoemann, in his very excellent study Salvation is of the Jews (San Francisco:  Ignatius Press, 2003) notes on page 131 the significance of what he calls the "Scarlet Thread" in regard to this interpretation.  Schoemann notes that an ancient non-canonical Jewish text, the Zohar, documents a ritual the priest did on Yom Kippur in order to seek communal atonement for sins on behalf of the nation.  A scarlet thread was involved in this process, and as the Zohar records, if the thread turned white that meant that the priest was successful and therefore the atonement resulting was a cause for rejoicing.   This is noted by Schoeman to be a sign from God which is also recorded in Isaiah 1:18, which tells us that "though your sins be like scarlet, they may become white as snow (NKJV).  It also is a picture of Revelation 17 and Revelation 12 - the "scarlet" of spiritual harlotry being cleansed white by the High Priest Himself, Jesus Christ, in the pure wedding gown of the Bride.  The new cleansing completes the "old," in other words.  We are going to be revisiting the role of the Jewish people later, but also we see this a picture traditionally of the sacrament of Holy Baptism too - the scarlet Blood of Christ, shed for our sins, makes us white as snow.  It is a powerful reminder of why we can participate in the sacramental life of the Church, and that no merit on our part can make that possible - only the Blood of Jesus, shed for our sins.  Praise God too for His great gift to us!  

The next section of Hahn's book he has cleverly titled "Times of the Sign" (he does some really clever plays on words with his titles and subtitles, and it does get one's attention!).   In this section, Dr. Hahn is going back to Revelation 6:1-8, which contains the image of the "Four Horsemen."   Traditionally, these four horsemen represented religious/political deception (White), war (Red), famine (Black), and death and pestilence (Pale).  In verse 8, let's talk about this "pale horse" a little - the Greek word used in the original translations is the word kloros, which translates as a sickly greenish palor that one has when terminally ill.  It is the same word, ironically, that we get the modern chemical name chorine from, and what is more interesting about that is that chlorine has that pale color, but it also is used as an antiseptic to kill germs in its commercial form, bleach.  The renown Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in his work The Jewish War, would have probably concurred with this interpretation as he was an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, and what he wrote about it is actually quite gruesome but factual.  In one section of this work entitled "Horrors of Jerusalem,"  Josephus writes that "all hope of escape and all food supplies were now cut off from the Jews, and famine devoured thousands upon thousands." (Paul L. Maier, trans., Josephus - The Essential Writings. Grand Rapids:  Kregel, 1988. p. 358).  He also writes that the Emperor Titus observed as he made his rounds that valleys were choked with dead corpses oozing decay, and that countless numbers of Jews died of humger, and in every house where there was the least morsel of food, it was fought over (ibid.).   It got to be so bad, Josephus continues, that mothers drowned their own infants!  This mirrors some similar conquests in the Old Testament, particularly documented in Lamentations at around the time of the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah 14:22 talks about that when the Prophet writes "And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem because of the famine and the sword; they will have no one to bury them nor their wives, their sons nor their daughters - for I will pour their wickedness on them," and in verse 18 it continues with "and if I enter the city then behold, those sick from famine!"  Jeremiah 16:4 gives a more graphic description of what happened in the day Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem when it says "They shall die gruesome deaths; they shall not be lamented nor shall they be buried, but they shall be like refuse upon the face of the earth.  They shall be consumed by the sword and famine, and their corpses shall be meat for the birds of heaven and for the beasts of the earth."   Anyone who has lived in an area that is a horrific war zone, even today, knows that what is described in Revelation 6 is an obvious sequence of events you have in war and calamity - a conquering leader rides victoriously on a "white horse,"either literal or figurative, and at his command armies attack.  When this happens, conditions created by these battles create famine, and famine then leads to pestilence, as the lack of healthy food and water, not to mention the stench and decay of corpses that cannot be properly disposed of, produce disease - war zones are large petri dishes of the nastiest infections and plagues to afflict mankind, and this is what I believe Josephus and the Prophet Jeremiah both witnessed, as has also been witnessed by untold numbers throughout history.  Therefore, the word kloros could very easily be interpreted to mean "plague" or "pestilence" as opposed to outright death, although people who contract these plagues, without the proper medical attention, automatically have an irrevocable death sentence upon them as a result.  The interesting thing recorded in history, as Dr. Hahn notes in his book, is that despite the hellish conditions of the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, not one Christian perished - many Christians, as Hahn noted, had already fled Jerusalem, many going to an Edomite city called Pella.  This then leads to something in Revelation 7:1-4 - the "Seal" of the 144,000.  If looking at this from a futurist perspective, the traditional viewpoint is that this represents a Remnant of Jews during the Tribulation which is protected from the intense persecution of the Antichrist.  I would not dismiss that, as again Revelation transcends timeframes and can mean simultaneous things to whatever generation reads it.  And, as we're going to see momentarily, God is not exactly finished with the Jews yet either, and therefore a futuristic dimension to this passage is definitely valid.  However, Dr. Hahn in his text leads us to something more fascinating on a sacramental dimension.   We first need to look at this "seal" - what is it??  Dr. Hahn notes on page 97 of his text that this "seal" was on the forehead, and he references Ezekiel 9:2-4, which denotes that the "seal" in Hebrew is called a tau, which can be transliterated as the Greek letter t.   Guess what that resembles??  Correct - the Sign of the Cross!!  Even among the secular Franciscan orders today - I noted this at our diocesan Synod with our order of lay Franciscans - the crucifix is often a stylized t that these brothers wear.  "Sealing," although in later centuries used for the anointing of oil during the Sacrament of Chrismation (Confirmation), was understood by the early Christians to allude to the sacrament of Baptism.  This leads us to a valuable lesson about how Revelation transcends time and application in that although believers are often battling against persecution (note Ephesians 6), we never fight alone!  This is why too that as a Church, we are "members unto one another," (Romans 12:5 NKJV) and the Church too transcends generation.  Bottom line is this - if we are in Christ, no matter what hits us, we win!  Again, this goes back to Romans 8:28 too.  Understanding that dimension of Revelation makes the book less frightening and confusing and offers us more hope.  

I now want to talk about "Spiritual Semites," to use Dr. Hahn's subheading on page 99 of his text.  The first important part of this to understand is that despite how some have interpreted it over the centuries, Revelation is not anti-Semitic!  As a matter of fact, St. John's words make no sense if Israel is not the firstborn of all nations.   In Revelation 2:5, we note that Jesus Himself warned the church at Ephesus to "remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place - unless you repent."  When Titus conquered Jerusalem in AD 70, he made a memorial to his own ego on the Arch of Titus in Rome, and one of the things it shows is the Romans carrying off the menorah from the Temple as a spoil of war.  As the Jews understood this, to remove that lampstand was tantamount to the removal of God's very presence from the nation, and many Jewish converts to the Christian faith understood that, which is why Jesus spoke through the Apostle John to write this.  The warning in the verse was that if we as a Church (or more specifically, the Ephesian Christians) don't change our ways, we will suffer the same fate.  We still have this symbolism on the altars in our Anglican Catholic parishes today, as on every altar are two candlesticks - the one on the left is the Gospel candle, while the one on the right is the Epistle candle.  The Epistle is always lighted first prior to Mass starting, and the Gospel light is always extinguished last because, as has been traditionally taught, the Gospel never stands alone, but is for all.  Therefore, it also means that the light of the Gospel burns in us, and if we ever allow it to be extinguished, God leaves us.  Unfortunately, there are some futuristic warnings for the Church that we can learn from the first-century Jews, and they are these - we are letting our lights die.  There are ways this was said to happen, and from Scripture here are some of them:

1.  II Thessalonians 2:11 - God allows a strong delusion to be sent upon those professing Christianity.
2.  I Timothy 4:1-3 - The Great Apostasy at the end times
3.  II Timothy 3 - A detailed list of signs of the Great Apostasy
4.  Ephesians 6:13 - A mandate to be clad with the whole "armor of God," so that when this "evil day" (which I believe to be this Apostasy) comes, we as the Remnant will be prepared to face it.
5. Revelation 3:14-17 - Let us look to the Laodicean Church as a warning that our spiritual complacency could imperil us. 

That being said, there is a teaching in the Church that one day a Great Apostasy will happen in which many who profess Christianity will fall away from the faith, and the majority of these fallen-away people will be from the Gentile nations - this is called the "Fullness of the Gentiles" in Scripture, and can be found in Romans 11:25.  At this same point in time will also be a mass conversion of Jews to the teachings of Christ, as many will come to understand that Jesus is the One that their own Scriptures promised would come to them.  This is a fairly accepted truth that Christians in both the Eastern and Western traditions hold, and it has some elaborations to it.  For one, many Fathers of the Church, including St. Jerome and others, say that for centuries the Jews have had a temporary blindness to the truth of the Gospel so that Gentiles could be evangelized (Desmond Birch, Trial, Tribulation, and Triumph. Goleta, CA:  Queenship Publishing, 1997. p. 418).  Roy Schoemann elaborates on this further in his book when he notes that Jesus Himself prophesied this in Matthew 23:37-39, as he notes that God Himself "darkened" the eyes of the Jews for a season so that salvation could be preached to the Gentiles, and therefore the Jewish rejection of Jesus is not the end of the story (Schoemann, p. 321-322).  However, as many in the Church begin to apostatize and fall away, many Jews will begin to be converted to the truths of Christianity - the Catechism of the Catholic Church even teaches that the Second Coming cannot occur until the conversion of all Israel (note CCC 674, as well as Birch, p. 419 and Romans 11:12, 15, 25).  An Eastern Father, Blessed Theophilact of Bulgaria, likewise notes in his writings that the conversion of the Jews to Christ will evoke the "most intense malice" from the Antichrist against the Remnant Church, which is now inclusive of the converted Jews, and this leads to the start of the Great Tribulation - this also corresponds I believe with the "Abomination of Desolation," when the Antichrist declares himself to be a god in the Jewish Temple, that Scripture documents in Matthew 24:15.  Antichrist will demand that people worship him as a "god," and when people refuse, it becomes a capital offense, which is where the intense persecution that Bl. Theophilact talks about comes in (Lazar Puhalo, ed. The Beginning and the End.  Dewdney, British Columbia:  Synaxis Press, 1972. p. 42).  In recent decades we have been witnessing a huge influx of Jewish converts to Christianity, both among Protestants (via the Messianic Judaism movement that hearkens back to the 1960's) and Catholics (via the lay apostolate, the Association of Hebrew Catholics, founded by Jewish-born Carmelite priest Fr. Elias Friedman in the early 1980's).  It also correlates with the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 - regardless of one's views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israel is an inescapable fact, and as God allowed it He must have his reasons.  One of those reasons we should seriously consider is that maybe God is gathering the Jews to an accessible point so that they may have the Gospel collectively presented to them at some point, who knows?   At any rate, this leads to something very important.

It has been common over the life of the Church for generations to embrace the idea that the Church is the "New Israel," and that somehow the Church has replaced the Jewish people as the "Chosen."  To an extent, this is true, but at times this reasoning has been used by some in the name of Christ to engage in heinous acts of anti-Semitism.  It is important that we refrain from falling into that heresy, also called revocationism or "Replacement Theology," because to do so puts one at a serious risk.  First of all, despite their temporary collective rejection of Jesus, He has had His hand on His people (yes, Jesus was born a Jew, in case some didn't get that memo!) and in many cases, as Fr. Elias Friedman notes in his seminal 1987 book Jewish Identity (New York:  The Miriam Press), the suffering of the Jewish people mirrors Christ's own sufferings - Friedman, for instance on page 124, likens the Holocaust that happened to the Jews under Hitler to the Crucifixion, while the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 is like a sort of Resurrection.  On page 130 of his text, Fr. Friedman quotes St. Chrysostom who says "Seeing the Gentiles abusing little by little their grace, God will recall a second time the Jews."  And, it also should be remembered that the Great Apostasy is synonymous with the collapse of Christendom, not the disappearance of Christianity - there will always be a faithful Remnant!  Therefore, we can conclude by a consensus of Church teaching over the centuries that the coming Great Apostasy of the Gentile Church will be simultaneous with what is called the Accession of the Jews (meaning their acceptance of Christ and conversion to His message).  That being said, one cannot be a good Catholic Christian until one has fallen in love with the religion and people of Israel (Hahn, p. 100).  And, as late Eastern Orthodox writer, Fr. Lev Gillet, wrote in his 1942 classic Communion in the Messiah (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke and Co., 1942), "A true Christian and a true Israelite communicate in the same Messiah.  This communion is partial and implicit.  God will make it one day total and explicit." (Gillet, p. 196).  The ulitimate communion of  Jew and Gentile believer will come, therefore, when Christ comes for His Bride, His Church, but we can see it begin now and in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist we can be one and the same as we are baptized by the same baptism (Ephesians 4:8) - the 19th-century Anglican priest and herald of spiritual renewal, Rev. James Haldane Stewart, also noted in his writings that "Jew and Gentile shall become one fold, under one Shepherd." (James Haldane Stewart, Sermons Specifically Designed to Strengthen the Faith and Increase the Devotedness of Christians in the Present Remarkable Era.  London: Ellerton and Henderson, 1829.  P. 410).  Now, how the Great Apostasy shall happen?  Let us discuss that in conclusion.

We need to understand that apostasy happens when Christians become too confortable with the New Covenant, especially with the grace it bestows.  The lesson in Revelation 3 of the Laodiceans warns us of this complacency, and when people start being "too confortable," this tends to breed heretical doctrines and cultural conformity - are we not seeing that today??  When the destruction of Jerusalem happened in AD 70, it caused a lot of anxiety both for the resident Jewish population as well as the fledgling Christian community.  But, here was the thing - it also made both communities realize some things. For Christians, this meant looking at Mount Zion in a new light - Jesus had, after all, instituted the Eucharist on Mount Zion.  Therefore, when the fact that the "Real Presence" of Jesus was a sort of Parousia
for these Christians, they came to realize that the "heavenly new Jerusalem," as manifested on earth by the Church, has a physical manifestation of the Parousia in the Eucharist!  Today, two millenia later, it is still the central place where Jesus is celebrated coming to us in the Eucharistic meal. When Jesus returns though, the Eucharist will cease to be celebrated because we will be in full communion with Him face-to-face, and the sacrament will no longer be necessary.  Therefore, let us look at some concluding thoughts on the Mass.

The Mass is first and foremost where Christians join together with other Christians and the angels and saints to worship God.  It is also where the Church received the "hidden manna" in times of trial (Rev. 2:17).  The Mass is also where the prayers of the saints on earth rose like incense to join the prayers of the angels in heaven - hence the reason why Guardini wrote that the petition "Thy will be done" is the gateway petition of the whole Lord's Prayer.  And, in every age, the Church has faced persecutions - in modern times it is twofold.  In the Middle East, for instance, the demonic forces of radical Islam (personified in its current form as ISIS) are literally slaughtering and martyring untold numbers of Assyrian, Coptic, and other Christians.  In the West, it is a growing secularist agenda, nourished by decades of teaching the false "gospel" of evolution and the gradual removal of God and Judeo-Christian ethical norms from our society, which has now even led to the persecution of people such as Kent Hovind, who was imprisoned 9 years under a trumped-up charge of "structuring" which essentially was a godless judge abusing laws directed at drug dealers and terrorists to target Christian ministries.  Or, it is persecuting Christian businesses - who can set standards for how they conduct businesses they invest in - for not selling wedding cakes to "gay" couples based on their Christian convictions against doing so.  Or, it is egotistical, corrupt lesbian bureaucrats in Houston, TX, who overstep their bounds by trying to "edit" what pastors preach in the pulpits of their churches.  Persecution is persecution, regardless of if it comes by litigation or the sword, and Christians have been targeted by Satan for persecution since the Church was birthed.  But, we also need to be encouraged that such efforts will ultimately fail, because GOD is in control of the events of the believer's life (Romans 8:28).   And, we as the Church, the army of the Agnus Dei, draw strength ultimately from the banquet of heaven, the Eucharist.  God bless you all until next time. 

Thursday, August 6, 2015

An Informal Talk About "Thy Will Be Done"

I want to deviate a bit from posting my Sunday School lessons, although they will continue - I have a three-part lesson I am working on that I will post in a couple of weeks anyway.   I wanted to just do something informal, as a sort of inspirational talk, and it actually ties into my Bible studies as they relate also to some personal experience as well.  What I am about to share here is something that has been in my ponderings for some time, and recently I had an opportunity to sit and reflect on it and this stuff is going to be coming out of my personal journal entry.  So, let us begin.

I took my parish Bible study class a couple of months ago through Romano Guardini's classic 1932 text on the Lord's Prayer, and it was a really good study that I as the teacher learned as much from as those I was teaching.  If you will recall those studies, Guardini's assertion that the gateway phrase of the "Our Father" is "Thy Will Be Done," makes perfect sense.  In life, we occasionally go through situations that test the limits of how far we commit to such a petition when we pray it, and I want to start this by sharing some of those situations with you.  In the past 20 or so years, I have seen my fair share of struggles as I have gone beaten and battered through the jungle known as Corporate America as an administrative contract professional.  I know what it is like to have long periods of unemployment, and to also face a certain amount of discrimination in the workplace because of my age, my male gender, etc.  Going through stuff like that makes one really "get" what it means to pray "Thy will be done," because in many cases you are forced into situations where you have no other choice but to submit to God's will - everything you try to do ends up crashing face-first into a metaphorical brick wall, and many times doors that should be opening do not, and it can be frustrating.  I also recall many cases when I have been let go from temporary assignments, only to be stranded for hours on end at bus stops, in libraries, and in front of swanky hotels in the middle of cities with no money, no way to call home, and am at mercy to the elements - that happened recently to me in downtown Tampa actually.  It is at those times however when it actually proves invaluable to keep a journal as well as having good reading material with you.   In my Tampa adventure recently, I was stuck downtown from about 8:15AM to 3:10 PM, for although I called Barbara to let her know I was ready to go that morning, she didn't check her cell phone until much later and by that time I had seemingly wasted a whole day sitting in front of a large hotel downtown admidst the shadow of towering skyscrapers, and praying to God I didn't get in trouble for vagrancy or something!  It is at those times you thank God for spacious lobbies in the skyscrapers with water fountains and friendly concierges and security people who gladly give you the time when you ask them because you don't happen to have a watch.  In that seemingly waste of a day, a question arises in retrospect - was the day really wasted?  Looking back on that and similar experiences over the years, I find out that some of my most inspirational moments come in times like that, because being you're stuck there with nothing better to do, it is a good time to reflect and write, and it is also a time to read some insightful material - this particular day, I happened to have a copy of Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson's 2013 book, Happy Happy Happy, and it proved to be some very good reading for me.  I am a big Duck Dynasty fan anyway, and who doesn't love Phil and Kay (except for the flaming liberal journalists who tried to trap him over something he said about homosexual behavior that Phil was actually spot-on with, but who cares what those liberal idiots think anyway- they are fools).  In between reading chapters of Phil's book, I wrote about 10 pages of material in my journal, and later I felt the need to condense what I said and make it into something I can share with others.   That is what I am doing here now.

One thing about being stuck in a big city almost 30 miles from home for around 6 or more hours is that you learn pretty fast to put into practice that prayer, "Thy will be done."  Being in a situation like that compels one to really be dependent upon God's will, and it drives home the fact that this truth is essential to our spiritual well-being as Christians.  However, as much as we pray this prayer, profession and practice are two different things,   It is easy to pray the words "Thy will be done," but it's much harder to allow God to do his work to bring about his will for our lives.  More unpleasant is how harsh that process can be at times too!  I have noted, from my own personal experience as well as observing others, that this fact is especially true when it comes to finances, meeting basic needs, and other fundamental concerns most of us have on a daily basis.  In our temporal plane of existence, this bill has to be paid by this date or else, we have to complete this work project by this deadline or our butts are in a sling, etc.  These pervasive pressures of the world around us create a conflict (or many, even in a day!) for us - it is a type of spiritual warfare we face on a daily basis in every true sense of the concept.  Those same forces that create deadlines for bills to be paid and projects to be completed are one and the same force - that force consists of the unity of impatience, acquisition, and trying to be "top dog" at everything.  It can truly be a challenge, as we always encounter someone who has a little more, is a little more advantaged in some area, etc.  It is the stuff of which the writer of Ecclesiastes, calling such pursuits rightly "vanity," says when he comments that "what profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?" (Ecclesiastes 1:3, NKJV).  I mean, sure, you earn a paycheck, but then the government takes a chunk of it through an illegal tax system and the rest is delegated to paying for so many things - rent, mortgage, student loans, car payments, utility bills, cable television, phone/internet, insurances, etc.  This is the stuff of misplaced priorities - things we think are priority may not be truly priority when all is said and done.  Does that mean that you shouldn't work and pay your bills?  Absolutely not - there are necessities in life, and they come at a price.  But, it is not the necessity of something that is in question, but rather the priority we often place on our necessities.  So, the question is this - why are we sucked up into this "vanity vortex?"  I have a two-fold theory on that.  First, often society dictates what is priority and what is not, and vain pursuits in the greater scheme of things become priorities because a godless society prioritizes them for us, and we are expected to invest a lot of time that would be better spent elsewhere into such pursuits.  Such a misplaced categorization of priorities creates a conflict in values for us.  Second, it is often the case that those who create these misplaced senses of priority end up being the ones who institutionalize it, and thus you have the evolution of the paradox of the "unnecessary necessity."   As a result, we have 21st-century America now, where decades of this misplaced sense of priority have caused a real moral bankruptcy - Bruce Jenner, for instance, would not have been deluded into his psychological issues of creating this whole fake woman named "Cait" today if it wasn't for the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Morgans, and now Donald Trump creating the environment for it.  These "robber barons" did so by setting up the altars to "Mammon" we see and making worship at those altars a cause for us as a nation to create a grid of "unnecessary necessity," or luxuries, that have fostered an idleness which in turn generates perversion.  It is a fact that people with too much time on their hands end up letting vain pursuits consume their time,  This is particularly true with radical feminism, whose rallying cry is "personal freedom" from patrimony and other contrived threats, and that too is a product of this same disease of misplaced sense of priority.  Lawrence Welk, the renown bandleader who was on TV for almost 30 years and led an orchestra for almost 60 before his death in 1992, wrote something about this in his 1979 book This I Believe (Englewood Cliffs, NJ:  Prentice Hall), as on page 140 he said this:  "Of course there are women today who are not having children at all, who are trading a home and children for what they call 'independence' or 'career,' or the 'rights' that will make them equal to men.  Now, I have always thought that women were superior to men in many ways, and here they are wanting to step down to be 'equal!'  Well, they may enjoy their independence while they are on the young side.  But what about when they get to be fifty, sixty, seventy, or more?  Where are the children who will love them?  Where is the husband who will give them the love and respect the deserve as the mother of the family?  I'm afraid that a lonely, bitter old age is in store for many young people who are unwilling to commit themselves to a marriage, a home, and a family."  The misplaced priorities we have in today's society would make Mr. Welk's correct assessment "politically incorrect," and he would probably be lampooned like the Duggars, the Robertsons, Bill Cosby, and others who have spoken the truth, and his career would have been under fire and attacked by what Rush Limbaugh correctly calls the "Feminazi Reich."   Phil Robertson would agree with Mr. Welk on this too, as he has been at the blunt end of the "political correct" bludgeon recently and he said this - "I usually tell anyone I talk to that I'm going to share the gospel because I love them.  I tell them it is not contingent on how they feel about me.  If they hate me, I'm not going to hold it against them.  If they don't like me, they can walk away.  But I have to love my enemies." (Phil Robertson, Happy Happy Happy. New York:  Howard Books, 2013. p. 199).  What Phil is saying, is that the truth is not popular these days because of misplaced priorities, and the truth is what Mr. Welk says in the earlier quote - the family is foundational, as God ordained it, and by disrupting this order because of misplaced priorities, there will be consequences!  People don't like to hear that, especially in this day and age.   Bruce Jenner, despite what he wants to call himself, has a serious psychological issue that needs to be addressed, and by his denying who God created him to be and then affirming such behavior as a "right" under his new name "Cait," he is in essence saying God made a mistake creating him.  At the risk of sounding blunt, let me say this to Bruce "Cait" Jenner - God endowed you with a twig and berries, buddy, so you are a man and were created as such because that was what God willed you to be, and God is a perfect being who doesn't make mistakes.  And, just because the Kardashians screwed with his head doesn't make that fact any different - anatomy doesn't lie, people!   So, for those who call themselves "transgender" and don't know what you are, here's an idea - pull your pants down in front of a mirror and look at your procreative equipment, and it will tell you!   Again, misplaced priorities makes the insane acceptable, and what should be compassionately treated as a psychological disorder (men running around in women's clothes is not normal, sorry!) is now celebrated as a "right."   I will probably make my own enemies for saying that, but you know something, I don't care anymore because the truth is more important than the approval of people.  At 45 years of age, I don't have time to kiss backsides and have more important things to worry about, so if you hate what I have to say, that is your business and you have the right to do so - just don't take away my right to say what is true.  And, that leads me to the next part of this discussion.

I wanted to say too that had we not been duped into the delusion of self-pleasure at all costs as a society, this whole "same-sex marriage" nonsense would not have even been discussed at all, because for those who know better, it is quite obvious that it is a stupid issue to begin with.  However, instead of following the Lord's directive to pray "Thy will be done," much of our society (including this whole "gay rights" racket) has embraced a satanic credo that was originally codified by 20th-century occultist Aleister Crowley and popularly called the "Wiccan Rede."  What that false credo essentially says is "do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law," or to put it in hippie terminology, "if it feels good, do it."  This crass utilitarian approach to morality and priority in life has been nurtured by many decades of self-indulgence and convenience, which was supposed to "liberate" people from the "old order," but it has enslaved them instead to their own passions.  The truth is that you can "do what thou wilt" all "thou" want, but in that scheme of things here is what the real situation is.  Although you are "doing what thou wilt," there are those who have more power and influence than you who want to do what they want too, and the selfish, social Darwinian bent of such an attitude will inevitably cause a clash of wills, and the greater power will impose itself on you, and rather than "doing what thou wilt," you end up "doing what they wilt."  Likewise, the guy who prays "do what thy wilt" cannot in good conscience pray the Lord's Prayer, because a more serious conflict will ensue - God's will cannot be done in one's life when one is trying to "do what I wilt" in their own lives.  Thus, we have the conflict in Ephesians 6 then don't we?  Also, this conflict is a  very real part of fallen human nature, as Jesus's words in Matthew 26:41 remind us that "the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  This is why it is written in Colossians 3:9-10 mandating us to "put off the old man with his deeds and have put on the new man, who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him."  Unfortunately, many Christians in an effort to reconcile this conflict of wills, unwisely ignore these clear words of Scripture and seek to compromise things which are not up for debate in order to try to have the best of both worlds, which then begs this question -  whose will does the compromising person who professes to follow Christ follow?  Isn't such a person more Crowleyite than Christlike?  I mean, after all, by reasoning in their own heads (never a wise thing to do!) to compromise, are they not professing Crowley's "Rede" instead of the gateway petition "Thy will be done" which ties together the whole Lord's Prayer?  That question right there could warrant a whole teaching of its own.

Surrendering by affirming the words "Thy will be done" - not only with our lips, but in our hearts too - can be both frightening and encouraging at once.  It is frightening in that it defies the tendencies of our human nature to surrender our wills to God's (despite the fact we seem to have no issue with surrendering it to other things!  Hmmm.....).   It is comforting in that if we truly seek to understand who God is and what His plan entails, we have the assurance of Romans 8:28, which reminds us that "all things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose."  Taking that therefore into consideration, we should be more confident in praying "Thy will be done" but unfortunately the pressures of life (deadlines, overdue bills, etc.) sideline us ever so much.  We will then be back to where we started and it may take a "wilderness experience," such as being stuck six hours in the downtown of a big city with just a journal book, to shock us back into focus.  So, yes, I am not merely chastising others, but am also a living testimonial to these truths myself.

As you face so many challenges in life, it is in the midst of those challenges we need to take more seriously what Christ taught us to pray when the petition "Thy Will Be Done" was incorporated into the Model Prayer to Our Father.  Submitting to the will of God is not a bad thing, because what he leads us to do and where he leads us to go is for our benefit a lot of times, and we would be better off with that guidance rather than trusting in perishable circumstances we are faced with everyday.   Hopefully, this will encourage you, and also challenge, and although it is not the most politically-correct message, it still bears paying attention to.  God bless you until next visit.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Lamb's Supper Part 5 - Introducing Revelation!

In our last study, we dissected the various parts of the Mass within a traditional Anglican context, and now in these next couple of studies we are going to see how it ties into Revelation's text, for interestingly, it does have a connection!  Although I am using Dr. Hahn's text The Lamb's Supper as a guide for the study, I will at times have some minor differences of opinion with his text, although for the most part his book is one of the best "popular theological" texts on the Mass, and is an excellent resource for the parish Bible study I am utilizing it for.  Also, as the occasion allows, I will "Anglicanize" some things, as Dr. Hahn is writing from a Roman Catholic perspective and may either have a different approach or not include some things that Anglican Catholic theology and liturgics would include, as we saw in the last study.  That being said, let us begin our lesson.

A cursory reading of the Book of Revelation can appear to defy common sense, because its imagery bears a similarity to a 1960's acid trip in many cases to the uninformed reader.  But there are some important things to remember about Revelation as it is read, and as we will see in subsequent studies in this series, it is the way one reads the book that determines what is understood from it - and, also as many of my professors at Franciscan University have wisely counseled, the entire Bible must be read with a prayerful attitude lest one falls into heretical teaching based on a merely academic or literary reading, as so many have done.   I like what Jase Robertson, who many of you will recognize from TV's Duck Dynasty, says about Scripture in general - "My main point of conflict was that I felt sometimes we studied the Bible as a legal document instead of a letter from God." (Jase Robertson, Good Call: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Fowl {New York:  Howard Books, 2014} p. 124).  Although to be fair Jase may have been simplifying that somewhat, he does have a point when it comes to Revelation - Revelation, in especially its first several chapters, is a letter from God to the churches of Asia that St. John, the Apostle, was charged with communicating to them as their bishop while in exile on Patmos.   But, as noted too, Revelation is also what is called apocalyptic literature as well, with apocalyptic giving the implication that something is being revealed to us (hence the name Revelation!).   Historically - and also correctly - a part of what is being revealed to us in this book is about future events, but it also contains so much more.  There are many dimensions included in its text, and although heated debates are often initiated over one or more of those dimensions, the fact is all of the interpretive dimensions of this mysterious book are actually true.  Therefore, it is important to start this study by saying that Revelation is always revealing in that it unmasks the prejudices, anxieties, and ideological bent of the particular reader.  And, that is where it can be uncomfortable, because as Jase Robertson said, Scripture as a whole is a series of letters from God to His whole Church, meaning you and I as individuals as well, and its message transcends time and place and is still relevant to us even today - in Revelation's case, maybe even more so.  Therefore, as we study Revelation (or indeed any Scripture!) perhaps we need to take some guidelines that David Bercot, in his book Common Sense (Tyler, TX:  Scroll Publishing, 1992) gives us:

1.  To find truth, you must start with a blank slate.

2.  Start at the beginning - with the teachings of Jesus.

3.  When reading Scripture, begin by giving each sentence its literal meaning if taken alone (with Revelation, there are exceptions though, as we will see later).

4.  Look at every statement in Scripture that applies, or could apply, to the topic being considered.  (Bercot, pp. 19-23)

To this I will add a fifth guideline:

5.  Always understand what the Church has historically taught about these particular passages - what did the Church Fathers and others say, for instance?

In the case of Revelation, application of these guidelines can be a little tricky in that Revelation lacks the orderly principles of a typical literary work - namely, a conventional story line arrangement.  That has led to some risky choreographics over the years for those who, in reading Revelation, fail to find order and therefore compensate by trying to impose their order on the text, as we see with myriads of dispensationalist writers and teachers over the years as an example.  Remember, Revelation was intended to reveal, and its contents must be understood to be for all Christians of all time, including the original 1st-century audience that St. John directed much of the book to.

Now, we get to the original focus of our study.  The liturgy is pretty much spelled-out for us in Revelation, and Revelation is indeed incomprehensible apart from the liturgy, which is something that unfortunately many of our Evangelical Protestant brethren fail to understand.  Often, many Evangelical prophecy teachers are correct on many details of Revelation, but then they begin to look at the book through about 80 years of Dispensationalist lenses, and when they do that, this is where they come up short - many of them often have a condition called Romophobia which inhibits their getting the fuller understanding of the text because they fail to see the liturgical dimension to Revelation because to do so makes them sound "too Catholic," God forbid!  Fact is however, as a Catholic Christian myself, I have a greater appreciation for Revelation and Bible prophecy now than I ever did because I also understand that the liturgical dimension does play a part as well, and it gives a fuller picture that many often miss due to reading the book through pre-established theological filters.  That being said, we see many elements of the Liturgy in Revelation, and indeed it does make the book come more to life when you are actively participating in what it says via the Liturgy of the Church.  Here is a few of these elements and where they can be found:

1.  The Altar (Revelation 8:3)                                                                                  
2.  Robed Clergy (Revelation 4:4)                                                                          
3.  Candles (Revelation 1:12)                                                                                
4.  Incense (Revelation 5:8)                                                                                    
5.  Manna (Eucharist - Revelation 2:17)                                                                  
6.  Chalices (Revelation 16)                                                                                  
7.  Sunday Worship (Sorry Seventh-Day Adventists! Revelation 1:10)                  
8. Prominence of the Virgin Mary (Rev. 12:1-6)
9. The Sanctus (Revelation 4:8)
10. The Gloria in Excelsis (Rev. 15:3-4)
11. Sign of the Cross (Revelation 14:1)
12. The Alleluia (Rev. 19:1,3,6)
13. The Scripture Lessons (Rev. 2-3)
14. The Agnus Dei (several places)

If one took the time and had the initiative, you could actually construct a complete historic Liturgy just out of the Book of Revelation alone. This definitely gives some prophecy teachers a little more homework to do too, especially some of the more anti-Catholic ones who often utilize certain passages to demonize the Roman Catholics and other Christians.

It is apparent that Revelation is sacramental as well as prophetic - it is not either/or, as some try to interpret it, but is both/and.  And that leads to an important question - with all this liturgy in Revelation, then why is it a recorded vision rather than a liturgical text?  An excellent question that deserves a concise answer actually!  First, as I have taught over the years, much of what God's people have done in our acts of worship over the centuries has been a reflection of the heavenly.  Dr. Hahn, on pages 68-69 of his text, goes into this somewhat as he talks about the worship of both the ancient Jewish Temple and the Church, and what he correctly notes on page 68 is that according to ancient Jewish beliefs, the worship in Jerusalem's Temple mirrored the worship of the angels in heaven.  The covenant liturgy, the Levitical priesthood, and the sacrifices served, in essence and in Dr. Hahn's words, as shadowy representations of heavenly models.  One very important difference however was something that Jesus Himself made possible for us - whereas ancient Israel prayed in imitation of the angels, the Church of the last days (which we have been living in since the Ascension, by the way) worships together with the angels (Revelation 19:10).  Revelation has now revealed one worship, shared by men and angels, in other words!  This is something I also heard a Pentecostal evangelist and distant relative of mine, Perry Stone, say once when he preached in a conference that when Moses received the Law on Mt. Sinai, God gave him a glimpse into the heavenly throne room and instructed Moses to order the worship of the tabernacle upon what he saw.  And, in Isaiah 6, we also see that prophet having a similar vision of this worship.  That being said, the Temple (and earlier Tabernacle) in Jerusalem with its trappings pointed to higher realities.  The worship of the Temple, as noted, was modeled upon the court of heaven, and its worship mirrored the angelic worship that goes on continuously in that court.  However, the higher reality the Temple pointed to - a model of worship - becomes a realized truth in the Church, Christ's Bride, as we can now pray together with the angels in heaven!  Remember Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well?  In John 4:20, the Samaritan woman initiated a discussion of where the true place of worship was to be by pointing out that her people, the Samaritans, worshipped on Mt. Gerizim (where today a remnant of Samaritans still have a temple interesting enough) while the Jews maintained that Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.  Jesus answers by saying "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father," (John 4:21 NKJV) and a couple of verses later He tells her why - "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him.  God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."  (John 4:23-24, NKJV).  Jesus was speaking of this very thing we are discussing when He spoke these words recorded in John's Gospel to the Samaritan woman, and I am thinking John may have had one of those "Aha!" moments later when Jesus was giving him the visions which inspired Revelation, and the fact that through Jesus man and angel can worship God the same in Christ was the true message revealed in this aspect of Revelation.  As this is a fact now of the worship of the Church, it indeed is an encouragement to us that we can, as Scripture proclaims, now "boldy approach the throne of grace" (Hebrews 4;16, NKJV).

Since this lesson is not about hermeneutics or anything that technical (I will leave that for my Theology papers in graduate school!) I won't spend a lot of time discussing Revelation's authorship except to say that as it relates to this study, Dr. Hahn holds to a pre-70AD date for its authorship based on the fact that John's precise description of the Temple required a tangible point of reference for measurement, etc.  This is a big debate among theologians and Biblical scholars that I won't get into at this juncture, although I do have my own viewpoint on it that I will share in a more relevant study for that at some later point in the future.  But, this does lead to some interesting observations as it relates to the study, as one dimension of John's vision as interpreted points possibly to the passing away of the old and the creation of the new.  We often relegate that to the "new heavens and new earth" which will come into being when Jesus returns in His second coming, and the Church affirms that interpretation.  Again, however, we must remember that we don't necessarily read the Bible like just any other book, and therefore there is another level or dimension of interpretation that Dr. Hahn talks about in his book which makes perfect sense as well, and can also be a multi-dimensional application of this vision.  It is called a spiritual interpretation, and what it entails is that the new Temple Christ reveals to John in Revelation is Christ's mystical Body, the Church.  A work was begun at the Ascension of our Lord that will find its completion at His Second Coming, and again both the allegorical (spiritual interpretation) and anagogical (eschatological interpretation) are true, and not necessarily mutually opposed - Revelation is both prophetic and liturgical.  Consider what renown Russian Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann, in his book For The Life of the World (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1963) says when he writes: "When man stands before the throne of God, when he has fulfilled all that God has given him to fulfill, when all sins are forgiven, all joy restored, then there is nothing else for him to do but to give thanks.  Eucharist is the state of perfect man.  Eucharist is the life of paradise."  (Schmemann, p. 37).  In the context of this study, what Fr. Schmemann is saying is that in the Eucharist, we celebrate now what will take place as a present reality, as if it has already taken place - in the economy of Jesus as God, it already has!   And, the reason for that is as Fr. Guardini has eloquently written - "The primary and exclusive aim of the liturgy is not the expression of an individual's reverence and worship for God.  It is not even concerned with the awakening, formation, and sanctification of the individual soul as such.  Nor does the onus of liturgical action and prayer rest with the individual; it does not even rest with the collective groups, composed of numerous individuals, who periodically achieve a limited and intermittent unity in their capacity as the congregation of the Church.  The liturgical entity consists rather of the united body of the faithful - the Church - a body which infinitely outnumbers the mere congregation.  The liturgy is the Church's public and lawful act of worship and it is performed and conducted by the officials whom the Church herself has designated for the post - her priests.  In the liturgy, God is to be honored by the body of the faithful, and the faithful are to derive sanctification from this act of worship.  It is important that this objective nature of the liturgy should be fully understood...The fact that the individual Catholic, by his or her absorption into the higher unity, finds unity, finds liberty and discipline, originates in the twofold nature of the human being, who is both social and solitary."  (Romano Guardini, as quoted from his work The Spirit of the Liturgy, pages 121-122, in Heinz R. Kuehn, Ed. The Essential Guardini - An Anthology of the Writings of Romano Guardini {Chicago:  Liturgy Training Publications, 1997} pp. 140-141).  What this classic text of the great Roman Catholic theologian is saying essentially is this - we worship in the liturgy as part of a greater Church that transcends time, place, and age; and as Dr. Hahn says, we worship with the angels in heaven as well as with the Church of all ages.  Remember the basic theology of what the Church is?   The Church doesn't just consist of those one sees, but rather includes us (the Church Militant), those who have went onto their eternal reward (the Church Expectant), and the glorified Church of the Second Coming (the Church Triumphant), and with that all the heavenly host.  That prophetic dimension of liturgical worship should "fire us up" inside, because what it says is that we are part of something greater than ourselves - because we accepted Christ's call to follow Him, we are part of His Bride!  And, this is what Dr. Hahn is ultimately communicating to us in his text, and as he is faithful to the historic testimony of the Church in that, he is affirmed by great theologians of the East and West (such as Guardini and Schmemann) as well as Church Fathers and even St. John himself.  As we continue next lesson, we will begin to explore this more in-depth by taking Revelation's imagery and seeing it from a liturgical perspective.  God bless until next time.