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Archive for May, 2007

A few weeks ago, both Catholic and Protestant blogs alike were all ‘abuzz about the announcement that Dr. Francis Beckwith, then president of the Evangelical Theological Society, would be returning to the Catholic Church. Now, Dr. Beckwith is talking about his decision here. What I appreciate about this interview is that Dr. Beckwith fairly acknowledges not only those things he gained and for which he’s grateful for from his years as a protestant evangelical but also some of the past failings of the Catholic Church toward its members.

In one of my favorite parts of this interview, Dr. Beckwith says this:

“I do not believe I ceased to be an evangelical when I returned to the Church. What I ceased to be was a Protestant. For I believe, as Pope Benedict has preached, that the Church itself needs to nurture within it an evangelical spirit. There are, as we know, too many Catholics whose faith needs to be renewed and emboldened.

There is much that I learned as a Protestant evangelical that has left an indelible mark on me and formed the person I am today. For that reason, it accompanies me back to the Church.”

If you read the whole interview, you will also find a section near the end entitled “What can Evangelical and Catholics learn from one another?” That’s one not to miss.

HT: Fr. Dwight Longenecker

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Let’s say your daughter, hours and hours after attending morning Mass, happens to mention that some of the wine may have splashed onto her dress when she received the Eucharist this that morning. The chalice used for Daily Mass is a good bit heavier than the one used on Sundays. (I guess they figure the Daily Mass goers have built up the upper body strength to handle the heavier vessel!) Dd, not yet being used to the heavier weight of the weekday chalice, may have tipped it a bit too far. In fact, she’s pretty sure the wine, otherwise know to Catholics as “The Precious Blood”, did indeed splash onto her dress because she recalls sniffing her dress immediately after Mass and it having the distinct scent of…..wine!!! So when she told me this, I was overcome with horror. Think about it. If you say you believe the Eucharist really is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of the Lord, then a spill, or even a little splash onto one’s garment, might result in a scene reminiscent of the movie Monsters, Inc. when George undergoes CDA (Child Detection Agency) decontamination because he unknowingly re-enters Monstropolis with a child’s sock clinging to his backside. I guess the Church’s version of a modern day HazMat (hazardous materials) decontamination would be a SalvMat (salvific materials) decontamination?!? 🙂

All kidding aside, there are very specific ways to deal with accidents such as this. I’m just not yet sure what those ways are. I have a call in to Fr. D and am anxiously awaiting his reply.

So, anyone care to make a guess as to how he will advise us to deal with the “blood-stained” dress?!?

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…is Thomas Howard. His books Evangelical Is Not Enough, On Being Catholic, and Lead, Kindly Light were all very instrumental in my becoming the Catholic Christian I am today. When I was first introduced to his writings nearly 14 years ago, I didn’t realize who he was. By that, I mean, I didn’t realize he was the brother of Elisabeth Elliot. Upon learning that piece of information, I appreciated his writing even more. It couldn’t have been an easy decision for a man from such a well-known protestant family to enter the Catholic Church. Recently, I found a new-to-me blog, Streams of Mercy where I was fascinated to read a little of Elisabeth Elliot’s take on her brother’s conversion to Catholicism. I have read before of times when she was questioned on this topic. She has never been anything but loving, gracious, and respectful. Can you just imagine the thought provoking discussions that must occur around this family’s Thanksgiving table? Oh, to be a fly on that wall! 🙂

HT: Kid Sister of Blessed Imelda

If you would like to hear more from Thomas Howard, audio links to interviews with him can be found on this page.

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Since I’m feeling like I have to schedule an appointment just to catch my breath these days, I’m going to point you to some interesting things being said by some other folks in various places.

Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary, shares some thoughts on praying to the saints here and has commented further on his blog entry Talking Past Each Other.

Chris at the Catholic Converts blog has a nice explanation of Apostolic Succession, a concept I had never even heard of (much less understood the importance of) until within the past 5 years.

And for my homeschooling friends, I’m linking Elizabeth Foss’s reflections on her Rule of Six. I found it very thought-provoking.

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I wrote about why I think the beliefs and writings of the Early Church Fathers (ECF’s) are still valuable to us here. In my own experience, however, it was hard to appreciate the importance of these guys until I understood who they were. So this post will hopefully be the first of many “Spotlight on the Fathers” posts, introducing you to some of these amazing men.

Ignatius of Antioch (nicknamed Theophorus – “God-bearing” – by some in the early church) lived roughly from 35 A.D. – 107 A.D. during the period of history known as the Pax Romana. He was supposedly a disciple of the Apostle John and was Bishop of the Church of Antioch in Syria during the reign of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

While presiding over the Church of Antioch, he was constantly being confronted by the claims of another church in Antioch. A church that looked very much like the one he served in its liturgical practices, yet with a slight theological twist. The Docetists were a heretical group that denied God’s real, in-the-flesh humanity in the person of Jesus. They believed God had taken on the mere appearance of a man yet was not actually a man in substance. While that may not seem like a big theological tweak, the ramifications become quite consequential. In his book Four Witnesses: The Early Church In Her Own Words, Rob Bennett draws this conclusion from the Docetists’ denial of God being God-in-the-flesh:

“His apparent humanity – and by extension His suffering on the Cross – was, in truth, nothing but a divine bit of playacting.” p.104

This slight theological alteration compromise, provided the Docetists with a safety buffer from the Roman Empire. Their religion was less offensive with the doctrine of the Incarnation shoved under the rug. And after seeing Peter, Paul and other Apostles martyred, to be less offensive was quite attractive.

Ignatius of Antioch, however, would not be satisfied with this compromise and had great concern that the prospect of a safety buffer would prove too attractive for some in his flock (especially new believers) to resist. As Rob Bennett states:

“When the Apostles suffered under Nero, when he and Clement had suffered under Domitian, the choice had beens so much clearer, so much cleaner. It was Christ or nothing; it was victory or everlasting shame! But now something new had been added; this so-called alternative, this ‘third way’ to sap their strength and confuse their terror-stricken hearts. Now there was another church, another bishop – someone as learned as he or more learned, someone who could quote you the law and the prophets, look you in the face and tell you that so long as the spirit remains willing it would matter nothing if the flesh were weak.” p. 111

Although the details are unclear, Ignatius’ unwillingness to compromise eventually led him to seek an audience with the Emperor Trajan himself. The outcome of this meeting was Ignatius’ being condemned to death.

“When Ignatius heard this decree he instantly dropped to his knees on the palace floor. Stretching his arms toward heaven, he cried out in a loud voice:

‘I thank thee, O Lord, that Thou Hast vouchsafed to honour me with a perfect love towards Thee, and hast made me to be bound with iron chains, like Thy Apostle Paul!’ ” Bennett p. 116

Between the time when Ignatius’ death sentence was issued and his actual martyrdom took place, he wrote a series of letters: to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. He apparently was the first to call the Church “Catholic” and the focus of most of his letters was the Eucharist.

I’m realizing now that what was supposed to be a mere “spotlight” on Ignatius has become quite an essay! Kudos to you if you’re still with me! 🙂 There’s so much more that could be said about Ignatius of Antioch but since this was only meant to be an introduction, I’ll end with some of Ignatius’ own words:

“Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God.”

“I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”

For further study:

Four Witnesses: The Early Church In Her Own Words (Rob Bennett)

The Mass of the Early Christians (Mike Aquilina)

Faith of the Early Fathers, Vols. 1-3 (William Jurgens)

The Way of the Fathers (blog by Mike Aquilina)

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It’s eerie to me how similar the emotional experiences are of folks who have journeyed the path to Catholicism. I, thankfully, did not experience the rejection of my friends and family. (Some of them may think I’m crazy but they’re still sticking around. 😉 ) However, the process was still painful because it required so much of a paradigm shift in my thinking. So much of what I had believed for so long was in question. The emotional struggle for me stemmed from the ongoing confusion and uncertainty that consumed me for many months.

In the midst of it all, I received an email from a friend inquiring about how I was doing. She had joined the Catholic Church a year prior, and therefore knew, without even asking, what I was probably experiencing. She asked me about the sleepless nights, the pit in my stomach that rarely went away, the wondering (mine, not hers) if I was crazy, the feelings of loneliness, the constant worry about what if I do and what if I don’t become Catholic. Her assessment of my state of being was right on the mark.

Amber, from This Catholic Journey, has written a beautiful description of her conversion experience here, at CatholicDaily.org.   So much of what she describes could be said about the past year of my life.

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Although I never would have pegged myself a crunchy type of gal, I, along with some of my IRL friends, have taken what some might call extreme measures to improve the dietary health of our families. Having become convinced of the nutritional value of the whole kernel of wheat (not just what’s left once it’s refined into white flour) we grind it ourselves to make our own bread. We search out organic produce (when it doesn’t break the bank), grass fed beef and chicken (again when it doesn’t break the bank) and the freshest eggs. (No, I don’t wear Birckenstocks. 😉 ) We want to give our families the best. We want to be good stewards of these bodies we’ve been given. We have become convinced that eating real food can add life and energy to our physical bodies.

What does this have to do with the Sacraments?

Catholics believe “the seven sacraments are the signs and instruments by which the Holy Spirit spreads the grace of Christ the head throughout the Church which is his Body.” (CCC 774) As James Cardinal Gibbins described, a sacrament is:

“a visible sign, instituted by Christ by which grace is conveyed to our souls.”

They are not merely symbols or remembrances. They are food for our souls by which we receive the life of God Himself. The sacraments “give birth and increase, healing and mission to the Christian’s life of faith.” (CCC 1210) For something to be a Sacrament, three requirements must be met: It must have a visible, outward sign. It must communicate grace. Lastly, it must be instituted by Jesus.

It’s important to understand that the Sacraments are not “magic.” They do not offer a free ticket into heaven. Alan Schreck, in his book Catholic and Christian has this to say:

“The sacraments are not ‘magic.’ The power and life they convey come from God through Jesus Christ. Separated from the cross of Jesus Christ and from his grace, the sacraments would be only dry, barren ditches – empty, meaningless rituals. But because they are inseparably linked to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the sacraments are full of God’s abundant life which his Church receives through faith…….We must participate in the sacraments not merely externally, but with real faith and expectancy that God himself is present there and wishes to act in our lives through them.” pg. 127-128

What are these Sacraments that are so vital?

The Catholic Church formally recognizes seven of them:

  • Baptism
  • Confirmation
  • Reconciliation (Penance)
  • Marriage
  • Eucharist
  • Holy Orders
  • Anointing the Sick

It’s not my intent in this post to unpack each of the Sacraments individually but rather to introduce them and describe what they generally convey. However, it was in my own study of the sacraments that I came to understand the grace and life God wanted to give me through. I have already written a bit about my study on the Eucharist here.

Begging the Question

I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering, “But what does she think about me? She certainly can’t think I don’t have access to God’s grace outside of the Catholic Church!” No, I don’t think God can’t extend His grace to those outside of His Church.

To quote Alan Schreck again:

“The grace of God is not limited to the sacraments, but the sacraments make it available to us in a unique and reliable way.” pg. 128

And to quote a favorite priest of mine:

“God has freely bound Himself to work His salvation in the sacraments, but God is not bound by the sacraments to work His salvation.”

When my eyes were opened to the nutritional value of an unrefined kernel of wheat, I knew I no longer wanted to expose my family to the health risks associated with eating processed foods. I wanted real food for our bodies.  I bought a grainmill.

When my heart was opened to the grace and life that awaited me in the sacraments, I knew that to live without them would be at the risk of missing out on the fullness of grace and life God has for me. I wanted real food for my soul.  I became a Catholic.

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