Monday, January 15, 2007

Sign Off

Once again I am going to shut down this blog. The reasons are two-fold. First, I don't have the time for even one blog, much less two. Having said that, I do intend to try to maintain my other blog (www.patricksponderings.blogspot.com). Second, the tone of this blog has unintentionlly taken that of a Catholic apologist. I am not. I am a seeker (as the title indicates) who is in the process of coming into the Catholic Church. The closer I get to that, the more I see there is so much I don't know. So I need a lot of time to think and grow. I can easily post whatever I need to at the other site. So if you're looking for me, I will be there.

Peace,
Patrick

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Judgment

"“And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books… And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire,"” Rev. 20:12,15.

I have often heard people say something like, "“I'’m tired of hearing all that hellfire and brimstone preaching."” My question is, when was the last time they really heard any? Oh, I know there are those who can speak of nothing else. But in the main, the Church has been pretty silent about the reality of eternal damnation. Yet, it is, and always has been, a crucial part of the Church'’s teaching.

During this time of Advent we are to be in preparation for the coming of the Lord. He is coming to judge the living and the dead. We have a picture of that before us in the passage quoted from Revelation. As I read it, I tremble.

Everything we do and say is being recorded somehow. Those records will be opened at the judgment of the last Day. We will be judged for those things.

I know there are a lot of things that I don'’t want mentioned then. I know, quite frankly, that I don'’t have a chance. Were it not for the Grace of God, this Day would be terrible indeed. But I trust in the Grace of our God and in the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ. He has promised that all who repent and believe in Him will have eternal life. That is good news indeed!

However, I realize that I cannot presume upon this great Grace and Love. Salvation is not a position. It is a reality. It is not good enough that I believed yesterday. I must believe today. It is not sufficient that I obeyed yesterday. I must obey today.

"“Legalism! Works!"” I can hear people screaming. Not at all! Grace is no less Grace when it is acted upon. In fact, it has no practical effect until it is. Only then do we truly realize what it is to be saved by Grace. Grace works! It is intended to truly make us holy, not just declare us to be so.

As I anticipate that great Day, I am continually reminded of the need to prepare myself now. For I do not know when my life will end, or when our Lord will return to judge the living and the dead.

The question on my mind in this Advent season is, "“Am I ready to face the judgment of our Lord?"” Are you?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Unity

St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace," (Eph. 4:3). He goes on to state that the fact of the matter is that there is only one body in the same way as there is one God (vv. 4-6). In John 17, we read of our Lord's prayer that all Christians would be one, even as He is one with the Father (Jn. 17:21). In light of these verses we see that unity among Christians is not an option. It is a command. We are called to unity. So how is such unity to be accomplished?

Remember that when our Lord founded the Church, He founded but one Church. Unity was not attained by polling the membership and finding a way to converge everyone's opinions together. Unity was a matter of keeping to the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Ju. 3). The Faith was taught first by word of mouth. It was encapsulated in primitive liturgies and catechisms. Finally its essentials were committed to writing and collated in what we now know of as the New Testament. Every true Christian knew that unity was maintained by subscribing to the whole of the Faith as taught by the Church. This situation lasted for 1,000 years. Even after the Great Schism between East and West, there still remained a great unity of faith. Apostolic teaching was not affected in the main. Then there was the Reformation.

The Reformers found great fault with the Church and its leadership. They formed their own churches. Unity was forever afterward lost. Today, many believe that unity is to be found by conference and compromise. They think that everyone needs to give a little. There are some truths which cannot be held too tightly. They would have us live with a little less truth and conviction for the sake of a greater unity. But such unity is not worth having. It certainly is not the unity commanded by Paul and prayed for by our Lord.

Instead, true unity is attained by submission to the Faith. If this is not fully embodied in the Catholic Church then it remains for Protestants to prove it once and for all. This cannot happen as long as there are thousands of Protestant sects. If our Lord promised to preserve His Church (and He did) then the Faith must be kept wholly intact from the beginning by someone. If not the Catholic Church then who?

Which one of the main arteries of Protestantism will finally step to the fore and make its claim for being the heirs of the true Faith? Will it be the Lutherans, the Calvinists, or the Presbyterians? Will it be the via media of the Anglicans? Will it be the Anabaptists of the Radical Reformation? Or will it be some later group? Wherever this claim arises it will have the burden of showing how the Faith has been kept intact through the centuries and preserved by their group alone. For there can only be one Church.

And what of all the late arrivals? The holiness groups, Pentecostals, Charismatics, Third Wave, Non-denominationals, and the rest will have the awesome and daunting task of anathemetizing nineteen plus centuries of Christian tradition to lay claim to their particular group as the one, true Church.

For all my Protestant readers, I throw down the gauntlet in challenge. Prove yourselves to be the one and only true Church of Jesus Christ. Or face the fact that only the Catholic Church is! For the sake of our Lord who called us into existence, and the apostle who blazed a missionary trail for our following, and the centuries of saints and martyrs who literally gave all for this Gospel, and for the millions of souls who hang in the balance wondering where truth can be found I issue this challenge and pray that a sober and objective view of fact and reason may bring us once again together to Christ's one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Maintenance

Somehow there was a change in my settings such that no comments could be posted without my approval. Sorry about that. It should allow any and all comments now.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

What About The Rapture?

As Advent dawns my thoughts are directed towards the coming of the Lord. Obviously, I am thinking about His first coming. But I am also thinking of His return.

The doctrine of last things is still new to me. I was never quite settled on it in my former denomination. What I understand of Catholic teaching in this regard is that it is a lot simpler and much closer to Scripture. Furthermore it reflects the totality of Christian thought on the subject, not just the notions of a relatively select few for the last century and a half.

Many Evangelicals are fond of speculating about when the rapture will occur. Most are aware that the term rapture is not in the Bible, but is a theological term taken from the phrase used by St. Paul in his first epistle to the Thessalonians where he writes, "The Lord Himself... will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up (raptured) together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Thus we shall always be with the Lord," (1 Thess. 4:16,17).

There is a great debate among these as to when the rapture occurs: before, in the middle of, or after the great tribulation. It seems to me the majority adopt a "pre-trib" view of the rapture. So I will write in regard to that scenario.

after the rapture, these Christians expect to be taken to heaven to be with Jesus for the next seven years while those "left behind" will experience hell on earth as God pours out His wrath on them. In the midst of this, some will repent and be saved in the end. But the majority will be judged and damned.

In a way, this is like the Evangelical version of purgatory. If you're not quite good enough to meet Jesus when He appears in the air, you'll have seven years to be punished, but then you could be saved in the end.

In contrast to this, the Catholic Church teaches that when Jesus appears in the air, it is on His way to immediately return to the earth to judge the living and the dead. At this time all the dead will be raised and brought before the Lord in judgment. Far from focusing on a rapture or even a great tribulation, the Church is focused on preparing our hearts for the Lord's coming. We are more concerned with holiness of life now. We are more interested in fulfilling the mission of Christ in our own time rather than speculate on end-time theories (see Acts 1:7,8).

I think the whole rapture motif has had the unintentional result of making people self-absorbed and complacent. Rather than reach out to others, there seems to be a smug attitude on the part of many that they are one of the chosen few who will not be left behind. However, they base their thinking on the idea that they are "saved". They have asked Jesus into their heart and so they have a permanent reservation aboard the rapture train. No good works necessary, just show your "saved" ticket. This is just not true!

Rather, the Lord calls us to live in holiness. True faith is evidenced by holiness of life. Our Lord and His apostles are clear about this throughout the New Testament. Without holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). Jesus isn't coming back to conduct a quiz show and see if we know the secret answer ("If Jesus asked why should I let you into heaven, what will you say?"). Instead, He is returning to find those whose lives bear a likeness to His own. These are the ones who will finally inherit eternal life.

It is not enough to ensure we live a holy life and thus be ready for Christ's return. We are called to minister to others (see Mt. 25). In fact, there can be no true holiness without ministry to others. "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained from the world," (Jms. 1:27).

Our Lord Jesus Christ will return some day in power and glory to judge the living and the dead, and His kingdom will have no end. So every Catholic confesses weekly during the Mass. This is the succinct teaching of the Church on the last things. Beyond this, we cannot say a lot with absolute confidence. But that is enough. With it we know that we are called to become like Christ and to be always ready for the day of His appearing.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Borrowed Theology

Christians the world over owe about 3 distinct things to the Catholic Church without realizing it. They are: the New Testament canon, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the doctrine of the Incarnation. These are 3 bedrock doctrines for virtually all Christians of varying traditions. Let's examine them for a moment.

The letters of the New Testament were composed around 50-90 A.D. Many of them were readily accepted as Scripture by the whole Christian community without dispute. However, some of them were not. For instance there was some question over books like 2 Peter, the epistles of John, and the Revelation. In addition there were some communities that read early Christian works as Scripture. Some of these works included The Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, and 1 Clement. It took the Church nearly 400 years to finally establish a common canon of the New Testament. Ever since, all Christians have used the same Scriptures, simply receiving them without question as the Word of God. In spite of the fact that so many have felt compelled to question many of the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, they seem to have trusted the Church to give them their Scriptures. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that many of these are Protestant communions who only accept the Scriptures as their authority. Yet, even here, it was the Catholic Church that wrestled with these issues to finally bring us our completed New Testament canon.

Secondly, virtually all Christians accept the teaching of the Trinity and the Incarnation: that Christ is fully God and fully Man. However, these doctrines had to be hammered out over hundreds of years as well. Neither of these teaching probably existed in the form they have been received in modern times before the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Even since then, there remained some tweaking. The truth of these doctrines developed in response to heretical teaching on the issues. Again, virutally all other Christian churches have adopted these positions without question.

In light of all of this it occurs to me to ask how it is that some Catholic development of doctrine is accepted outright while others are given such careful scrutiny. Why don't all Christians accept the doctrines regarding liturgy, the Sacraments, or the communion of the saints as easily as they have accepted the ones I've already mentioned?

I suppose the immediate response would be that the accepted doctrines are easy to prove from Scripture. But that assumes the canon of Scripture, which I've already discussed above. Furthermore the Trinity and Incarnation are not easily seen in Scripture. One needs to interpret the Scripture within the framework of some sort of tradition. If it were easy, there would not have been centuries of dispute.

In the final analysis it appears to me that other Christians have simply chosen arbitrarily what doctrines they will accept and which ones they will reject. I'm sure they don't see it like that. They believe it is much more "scriptural" or "enlightened". But in the end it really is arbitrary choice. There is after all simply two choices: Catholic Faith, or individual faith.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Why Continue The Reformation?

"The Elder, To the Elect Lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all those who have known the truth." 2 John 1

Most people who read this passage are in agreement that the Elect Lady is a reference to the Church. More specifically it is probably a reference to a local church with the children being the members of it. Still, the verse pertains to the Church universal. We see that all who know the truth love the Church. With that in mind, let us consider something.

The Church was completely united for about 1,000 years. All denominations of Christianity basically assent to that. We acknowledge the Fathers of that period and quote them often in various contexts. At the end of that period was the Great Schism usually dated about 1054. About 500 years later came the Protestant Reformation. These have all grievously affected the unity of Christians ever after.

The Reformation began because the Reformers believed the Catholic Church to be irretrievably corrupt. They justified their own existence and the propagation of their movement on what they perceived to be the fact that the Gospel was corrupted in the Catholic Church and that if it was to be preached and men were to be saved from their sins, it fell to them to do it as best as they saw fit according to the Scriptures. They knew they were bringing division, but they felt it was imperative given their view of the Church.

The question is what things continue to necessitate the increasing division amongst Christians? Most Protestants are willing to acknowledge that Catholics can be Christians and that the official teaching of the Church still preaches the essence of the Gospel which is that God in Christ has come to reconcile man from his sinfulness to partake of His free gift of eternal life. This has been accomplished through the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. It is through faith in Christ that we come to know God and are restored to fellowship with Him.

Amongst Protestants there exists tens of thousands of divisions. Yet they generally view one another as being part of the Church and accept that they are brothers and sisters in Christ despite their differences. If this can also be said of Catholics, then why perpetuate the divisions? Why not make every effort to come together in unity for the love of the Church, as John reflects in his second letter?

Are there still issues between Catholics and Protestants? Most certainly! But do they necessitate the ongoing divisions? I do not think so. I believe that if we would honestly lay aside our preconceived notions and take a look at the development of the Church in history, we could all very easily find ourselves within the fold of the Catholic Church. I know many Protestants will respond by asking, "What about Scripture?" But I think you will find that the historic Catholic position deals much better with Scripture than most Protestants do.

For all who know the truth and love the Church I plead for this objective investigation. The Church and the world await us.