Our Scandalous and Foolish Faith

From this morning’s readings:

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will thwart.” Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your call, brethren; not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth; but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong… (1 Corinthians 1:18-27, RSV)

I always find this passage challenging and encouraging. I find it challenging because I am a pretty rational person, and was attracted to Catholicism because it is based on solid philosophical and theological assumptions. These verses remind us that no matter how well we explain the faith, or think we understand it, there are always going to be elements to our belief that will come across to outsiders as either scandalous or absurd or both. The crucifixion of Jesus is scandalous and absurd, by worldly standards. Modern pundits even poke fun of it. We shouldn’t be surprised, because the same happened in Paul’s day. I find this passage encouraging because it reminds us that Christ himself is God’s power and wisdom. Our faith truly is sacramental and incarnational, because it is ultimately about a person, not a system of principles. The principles, philosophy, etc, that result are based on the person of Jesus. This is why I don’t think an enlightenment-style Christianity works, because there are elements of Christianity that are foolish when analyzed from a purely rational perspective. We Catholics and Orthodox have a word for this: mystery. This is why we speak of becoming a Catholic as a type of initiation; the process is more than just learning a few principles, and giving an intellectual consent. Initiation implies partaking of a mystery that can be partially grasped, but not fully understood.

Psalm 50, Sacrifices, and Baptismal Vows

Just some simple spiritual/biblical reflections. I hope that they may help you in your lives.

“The Mighty One, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.”

Our God, the only true God (John 17:3), touches everything; absolutely everything! Consequently, our lives, and the way we live our lives, should incarnate this truth.

I do not reprove you for your sacrifices;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will accept no bull from your house,
nor he-goat from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.

God does not need our sacrifices. He does not need that we “give up” chocolate or any other food. Everything is His! He owns everything. We cannot give Him anything.

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High . . .
“He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me;
to him who orders his way aright
I will show the salvation of God!

Our God wants us to be thankful to Him! He wants us to fulfill our baptismal vows in our lives. He only wants what’s good for us. We truly honor God not through the things we give up without reference to Him, but through our thanksgiving, through the fulfillment of our baptismal vows; in a word, we truly honor God when our entire being is configured to Him who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

Today’s Sermon: The Terrible Aqedah

aqedah

Here is Father Robert Barron’s sermon for the Second Sunday of Lent.

TITLE: The Terrible Aqedah

SUMMARY: The story of the Aqedah, the Binding of Isaac, haunted the Israelite religious imagination. In it is contained one of the most important spiritual lessons in the Bible: everything we are and everything we have belongs, finally, to God. Knowing this is our liberation.

LISTEN (mp3): The Terrible Aqedah

Fraternal Correction (Lv. 19:17)

In today’s First Reading the Lord tells us: “You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him.

I think that we should all ask Our Lord to help us have the courage to correct our brothers and sisters, to help us choose the right words, and to do so in a truly charitable manner. Fraternal correction is a matter of precept, according to the Angelic Doctor.

Fraternal correction may be omitted in three ways:

1) MERITORIOUSLY. Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 9): “If a man refrains from chiding and reproving wrongdoers, because he awaits a suitable time for so doing, or because he fears lest, if he does so, they may become worse, or hinder, oppress, or turn away from the faith, others who are weak and need to be instructed in a life of goodness and virtue, this does not seem to result from covetousness, but to be counselled by charity.”

2) INCURRING MORTAL SIN. “when” writes Augustine ” one fears what people may think, or lest one may suffer grievous pain or death; provided, however, that the mind is so dominated by such things, that it gives them the preference to fraternal charity.”

3) INCURRING VENIAL SIN. Aquinas writes: “such an omission is a venial sin, when through fear or covetousness, a man is loth to correct his brother’s faults, and yet not to such a degree, that if he saw clearly that he could withdraw him from sin, he would still forbear from so doing, through fear or covetousness, because in his own mind he prefers fraternal charity to these things.”

We ask Our Lord to put people in our lives that are willing to correct us!

On Conversion to God

Lent encourages us to let the Word of God penetrate our life and thus to know the fundamental truth:  who we are, where we come from, where we must go, what road to take in life. And thus, the Season of Lent offers us an ascetic and liturgical route which, while helping us to open our eyes to our weakness, opens our hearts to the merciful love of Christ. BENEDICT XVI, GENERAL AUDIENCE, 1st March 2006.

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

The liturgical season of Lent is fast approaching. The Lord is giving us yet one more opportunity to work on ourselves, on our souls. For this, I thank Him!

As you are well aware we are living in a very tumultuous time; a time of financial distress, war, and a time in which radical politicians –and presidents–boldly undermine the sanctity of life. This time in which we live demands conversion, a radical turning away from sin to God. But unless we ourselves begin this conversion process, the world will continue getting worse and worse by the minute.

I warmly encourage each and everyone reading this post to take advantage of Lent, to make it the best Lent you ever had, the most spiritually fruitful. Let us enter into this holy season with a deep desire “to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge,” so that we “may be filled with all the fullnes of God” (Ephesians 3:19).

Please realize that God has given us everything we need to experience the conversion of our own hearts and minds, if we but humbly accept His Divine Grace. Let us ask our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, to plead our cause before the Lord, to teach us how to be good sons and daughters of the Most High, to protect us from all harm. Let us also ask our Brothers and Sisters who dedicated their lives to the fulfilment of the Christian vocation, and who now enjoy the Beatific Vision, to come to our aid in times of temptation so that we may be strengthened and may come off unharmed after the battle. Finally, let us be mindful that, through Baptism, we are members of the Mystical Body of Christ, and so we all have the responsibility to look out for one another, especially for the poor (Philipians 2:4; Matthew 25:40). Let us, then, pray for one another during Lent!

Lenten Resources:

Tolstoyanism vs Christianity

For my Topics in the Philosophy of Religion (Philosophy 441) class, we have to write an informal, one page, reaction paper for each of the reading assignments. This week’s reaction paper is written in response to Leo Tolstoy’s What is Religion and of What Does Its Essence Consist?

I wish I could have said more things about Tolstoy’s version of “Christianity”, but I am limited to a one page paper.

Here is my reaction paper for you to read and comment/critique: [Read more…]

Dividing Theology and Exegesis

Just the other day, I was talking to a fellow teacher in the diocese, who is getting his Master’s in theology from a Catholic University. Before beginning his program, he had to take a 1 credit class introducing him to the historical-critical approach to Scripture. Basically, the professor (a priest local to my place of birth) took an approach that gave strong precedence to this critical way of looking at Scripture. This basic, introductory class apparently was setting the stage for the rest of the degree.

I don’t want to sound narrow, because I am not opposed to biblical criticism, and any engagement with the Truth is a good thing, but I wonder why the historical-critical method is given so much precedence in so many graduate schools and seminaries? I know the reasons usually given for it, but honestly I am not sure how beneficial it is for faithful people, who believe in a Jesus who is known by faith. Let’s face it. That is classical Christianity. Even those who knew Jesus in person had to have faith to believe he was who he claimed (I believe Kierkegaard said something to that effect), so even if scholars using the historical-critical method somehow proved Jesus claimed to be divine, that still doesn’t mean people, ancient or modern, will believe it. I propose that while using more common critical methods, we start using critical methods that are critical of the critical methods themselves. For example, what about “ecclesiastical criticism,” asking ourselves what the Church says about Scripture, e.g. in Church documents and writings of the Fathers. After all, Scripture came from the believing community. Is it even proper to study Scripture outside this context? Is there even a “meaning” of Scripture outside the living community that produced it? Again, the Church uses standard critical methods, so there need not be a conflict here. I am just kind of thinking out loud here.

I admit to being very hesitant about Historical Criticism, especially regarding Jesus, because I believe it is inexact. As Schweitzer observed, the reconstructions of the “historical Jesus” out there tell us more about the historian doing the research than Jesus. When scholars begin to reconstruct the “historical Jesus,” he looks a lot like they think he should look like: Marxist revolutionary, gay rights advocate, proto-hippie, etc. One reason I went to Emory for my graduate work was that Luke Johnson was there, and I think he effectively answers the Jesus Seminar and others that go wild with Historical Criticism.

Apparently the pope feels this way too. Quoting from the documents of Vatican II, the pope believes biblical scholarship is not quite proceeding as Vatican II envisioned:

“[S]ince Holy Scripture must be read and interpreted in the sacred spirit in which it was written,” the Council text says, “no less serious attention must be given to the content and unity of the whole of Scripture if the meaning of the sacred texts is to be correctly worked out. The living tradition of the whole Church must be taken into account along with the harmony which exists between elements of the faith.”

The Pontiff expresses his view that in general, exegetes take into account the first principle — the unity of Scripture. But, they often neglect the second — the living tradition of the whole Church…

With such a perspective, he added, the presence of the divine in the historical disappears. The Pontiff offered the example of Germany, where certain exegetical currents deny the institution of the Eucharist or maintain that Jesus never left the tomb.

This interpretation, the Pope continued, creates a wall between exegesis and lectio divina, and causes confusion when it comes to preparing homilies.

With this perspective, Scripture cannot be “the soul of theology,” he contended, and theology ceases to be the interpretation of Scripture in the Church.

The life and mission of the Church demands overcoming such a dualism between exegesis and theology, the Holy Father affirmed. They are, rather, dimensions of the same reality.

Good for the pope. At seminary, I remember professors always dividing a wall between what we learn in class and what we will teach and preach when we get out, as if the two can ever really be separated. I give John Spong credit for one thing: he took what he learned in seminary in the 1960s, and logically ran with it. He didn’t try to do any mental gymnastics, or preach something he didn’t believe. Yes, Spong, who denies virtually every tenet of classical Christianity, has simply taken what a lot of seminary students are learning right now, and applied it to the church-at-large.

This criticism of criticism has been a trend in evangelical circles for awhile. Thomas Oden and others have seen the weakness of an over-reliance on the Historical-Critical approach to Scripture, and one reason I became Catholic is because the Church has a sane approach to Scripture, one that doesn’t render the Bible a literal, inerrant to the letter textbook of all things, or turn it into a “de-mythologized” book among many.

Leroy Huizenga from Wheaton has some excellent things to say about these issues on his faculty page:

The post-Enlightenment period has been a time of fracture in which such a holistic, coherent understanding of Scripture and its function has suffered dissolution: the Bible has been separated from the Church and its tradition; faith has been separated from reason; Jesus has been separated from Christ, the Gospels, the Apostles, and the Church; the Apostles have been separated from each other; and exegesis has been separated from theology. Many contemporary scholars and theologians, however, regard this state of affairs as less than desirable and are endeavoring to put the pieces back together in serious attempts at creative reintegration. Such attempts are neither pre-critical nor naive; rather, they are undertaken on the far side of the desert of criticism in the realm of a second naivete.

I believe that postcritical retrieval involves renewed consideration of the relationship of biblical studies and theology, reflection on the historical development and hermeneutical significance of the canon, attention to the history of biblical interpretation, an awareness and appreciation of intellectual history and the questioning of received academic wisdom. Thus, in my work I am concerned to bring philosophy, theology, the history of interpretation, theory, and exegesis together.

Amen again.

Psalm 63

Today’s Psalm reading is Psalm 63. One of the beauties of the lectionary is that, over time, we get to hear almost the whole of Scripture, exposing us to breadth of God’s written word. In the case of the Psalms, we actually get to pray and sing Scripture on a regular basis, putting the words of the psalmists on our lips today. Those who go to Mass frequently and who pray the Liturgy of the Hours, will become very familiar with the Psalms. Today’s psalm reading is one of my favorites, so I wanted to share it.

O God, thou art my God,
I seek thee,
my soul thirsts for thee;
my flesh faints for thee,
as in a dry and weary land where no water is.
So I have looked upon thee in the sanctuary,
beholding thy power and glory.

Because thy steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise thee.
So I will bless thee as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on thy name.
My soul is feasted as with marrow and fat,
and my mouth praises thee with joyful lips,
when I think of thee upon my bed,
and meditate on thee in the watches of the night;

For thou hast been my help,
and in the shadow of thy wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to thee;
thy right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall glory;
for the mouths of liars will be stopped (Psalm 63, RSV)