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Monthly Archives: December 2013

Challenging thoughts for Christmas – and all year round

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”....

And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”…. (pic from Wikipedia here)

In Galatians 2:10, we read “All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.”  Do these words sting you like they do me?  Are you, like me, convicted of a lack of concern – at the very least a lack of prayerful concern in this area?  I am.  Mea culpa – I have not been as sensitive as I could be about these things.  The neighbors God has put around me are always there that his love might be revealed!

A few weeks back we had a speaker here at Concordia University St. Paul who labels herself “lower class”.  It was a very enlightening talk – she brought to my attention several things I had not considered – and many others I have considered but quickly forget – about the challenges that face people who are, as she put it, “experiencing poverty”.  I had a chance to email her later on and she suggested that I get in touch with a man from our university campus who she had been most impressed with – the janitor, Keith Horrigan.  She told me that when she had been on campus, a bit nervous about her speaking engagement here, Keith had noticed her and very helpfully and kindly guided her to where she needed to be.  Keith ended up attending the talk (or “convocation”), which he told me later he never does at Concordia, and she pointed him out afterwards, heaping praise on him for noticing her and helping her.

It turns out that Keith to would label himself as “lower class” – and he happens to be a member of a local LC-MS congregation.  I had lunch with Keith a few weeks back and heard the remarkable story of how God saved him in his late twenties.  Growing up in a Catholic family, he had lost his faith very early on before Christ pulled him out of his pit.  One of the many interesting things I learned from Keith is that he is very well read when it comes to books about Christian spirituality.  He told me that right now he is working his way through the Philokalia, a spiritual classic in the Eastern church (which he says he thinks gets a bit wacky at times, but has much of great worth).  He is also a poet.  What follows is his poem “My Gomorrah”, which he gave me permission to publish here.

I need to eat with this man again.   Perhaps today I will be so blessed to do so.
Here is Keith’s poem: (not sure why can’t get a space before it):
I have wandered through your city nights
   crawling
      through the corners of your screens,
Between the factories exhaustions
   and the drought
      of your garbage ridden streams,
Beneath these newspaper blankets
   I have weathered
      the assault of your extremes,
Through the ash cans of your alleyways
   through the dank
      in the churning of your schemes,
Through the miles of  your heartlessness
   through the thick
      and the grime of your regimes,
In the blank of your ghetto dawn
   sprawled out
      between these lines of urban green,
Walking through this dead of night
   sifting
      through these memories obscene,
I have traced the bindings of your gold
   fettered
      to the gate of broken dreams,
Within these iron railed graveyards
   I have fought
      with the howling of your screams,
With the taste of blued metal in my mouth
   and with all
      that belittles and demeans,
I have bathed within your sacraments
   and waded
      through the pools of your ravines,
And I have wasted not a taste
   sampled
      from your sewers and latrines,
I have greased the turning of your gears
   winding
      through the cogs of your machines,
Shackled to the threshold of your doors
   waiting
      for your courtrooms to convene,
Held hostage for the piercing of this crown
   to be tried
      by the wiles of kings and queens,
Paying for the crimes of your injustice
   with more
      than one lifetime it seems,
Hammered to your tree of weeping wood
   once again
      I replay this morbid scene,
And once again
   for this crime of empty pockets
      I’m forsaken
         waiting for the just to intervene.
 
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Posted by on December 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Nadia Bolz-Weber on theodicy and atonement

NadiaNadia Bolz-Weber, the Lutheran (ELCA) “pastrix”, seems to be everywhere these days.  Rod Dreher, writing at the American Conservative has had two blog posts on her this past week alone.

Here is a clip from his most recent post:

I expected to hate the book, given how radical Bolz-Weber is, and I expected her to be liberal Protestantism’s flavor-of-the-month. That’s not what I found when I actually engaged with the book. Even though I will never agree with Bolz-Weber on some fundamental Christian dogmas and doctrines, I admire her heart, her voice, and her ragged humanity. From what I can tell, some on the Christian left were startled that a conservative Christian found anything nice to say about one of them, and some on the Christian right are appalled that I found anything nice to say about a pastor who upends so many orthodoxies (many of which I myself uphold).

I was thinking this afternoon about what it was, precisely, that makes me like Bolz-Weber in spite of the fact that we are on opposite sides of some important controversies. I think it comes down to this: she’s a radical. She seems to know, as so many ideological Christians on both the progressive and conservative side do not, that Christianity is not educated academics and/or the comfortable middle class at prayer. It is — it has to be — something far more challenging, and, yes, radical. Peter Kreeft spoke to this point about politics in a 1996 First Things essay in which he, a traditionalist, discovered he had more in common with a socialist friend than either of them had in common with their lunch partners who were a conventional liberal and a conventional conservative. It emerged in a discussion about architecture and aesthetics. (see here ; see here for three recent posts he has done on her)

In the post on Bolz-Weber before this one, Dreher had talked about her friendship with Chris Rosebrough, the confessional Lutheran apologist who does the daily show Fighting for the Faith.  On Issues ETC Rosebrough recently talked about how he got to know Nadia (she talks about him in her new book Pastrix), past experiences they had in common, and her theology, which he did a critique of.

The other day, I came across a podcast from the PBS program On Being where she was being interviewed (I listened to the extended version).  Here is her take on the atonement:

(around 38:30) To me, the greatest revelation of who God was was actually at the cross… because to me that’s not God’s little boy, like God is some sort of divine child abuser sending his own son, and, “he only had one…” … you know, like come on, give me a break… “God’s little boy…and he only had one….”  As this sort of divine child abuser.  As this cigar-chomping loan shark demanding his pound of flesh.  You know, he’s sending his little boy… what hogwash, right?  That actually is God on the cross.  That’s God saying “I would rather die than be in the sin accounting business you’ve put me in.” (applause)  From the cross… there is all this stuff about the final judgment.  You know what the final judgment is to me?  Its God dying on the cross and saying “Forgive them they know not what they are doing”.  That’s an eternally valid statement to me.  That is God’s judgment upon us.  And so, to me, if God could bear that kind of suffering and only respond in forgiveness and love, that’s the God who is present in a devastating hurricane… in that room with an abused child.  So to me God has come into the world and is bearing that, not causing it (pause and applause).

I might be wrong, but I don’t think all of that made it into the final interview – I briefly looked at the transcript online and did not find it.  As with many things in theology, often the problem with much of what is said is the things that are not said.  In this case however, I think we have even bigger problems than that.

But as can be seen from Dreher’s posts – she certainly has a wide appeal even among more conservatively-minded folks.  In fact, I wager that many would not even have concerns with what she says about the atonement above.  But let us remember, there is a wrath of God.

And I see this issue and the one presented in the picture above as going hand in hand.

FIN

Pic credit: Todd Wilken, found at Brothers of John the Steadfast

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The “true and reasonable” confrontables of the Christian faith – considering David Bentley Hart’s approach through Lutheran eyes (part II of II)

Paul practicing apophatic (v. 24-25, 29) and cataphatic (v. 23, 30-31) evangelism.

Paul, on Mars Hill (Acts 17), practicing apophatic (v. 24-25, 29) and cataphatic (v. 23, 30-31) evangelism.

Part I

First, perhaps you are wondering: “What is a ‘confrontable’?”  I thought of the word, wondered if it was in use, and then, via Google, found out it had indeed been used, albeit as an adjective (which makes sense) – it simply means “able to be confronted, approachable”.  I’m just using it as a noun here.  It seems to me a word that invites active engagement.  That is our God, come in human flesh.  

So, to review: yesterday I ran off an impressive bunch of David Bentley Hart quotes Father Aiden Kimel had culled from Hart’s new book, The Experience of God.

The question I now want to deal with is this: are such thoughts compatible with Lutheran theology, which emphasizes Paul’s insistence in Romans 3 that “no one seeks God” – and that before knowing Him we show ourselves to be enemies and haters of God?  On the one hand, I definitely think so – on one level, the last quotes I mentioned yesterday challenging persons to “contemplative prayer” strike me as a kind of philosophically-informed preaching of the law – challenging man’s notions of his being a good and noble objective observer in the universe – who may be willing, generously, to explore the “God hypothesis”.  It calls modern man’s bluff out: if you say the evidence whether God exists is important to you, are you even trying to seek Him?

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

Lutheran saint Kurt Marquart: “Man is not an objective super-observer in the universe, but a condemned sinner with a vested interest in escape.”

After all, even if one does not believe in the Trinity, all men intuitively know that there must be some kind of divine Mind that is at bottom responsible for the cosmos that he inhabits and experiences as a part of it.  Paul also asserts in Acts 17 that men do seek God – but the key here, I think, is related to the lower case “god” that Hart uses in one of those aforementioned quotes.  This knowledge of God man has and continues to gather is of course suppressed (Romans 1) – sometimes more or less so (Psalm 14, “the fool in his heart says ‘there is no God’” deals with this).  Nevertheless, even sinful man has a tendency to ask questions and seek answers about the god he cannot totally put out of his mind.  The point, of course, is that the one seeking god is not seeking the true God, but they are seeking to experience god as they can imagine him, fathom him, and yes, use and control him. 

Behold God – of whom other gods are all too small.

Behold God – of whom other gods are all too small.

There are many however – perhaps even more in these days – of whom such words cannot be said.  They are far too distracted by other desires and interests – other attractive and shiny things – perhaps even more sophisticated shiny (and “divine”) things, worthy of the elites  (see here – I think this is my best post from this past year).  For them, Hart’s earnest exhortations to seek god that they might find him are words that can condemn them, pointing out how they fall short of the glory of God – whether or not Hart intends writes the words with this intention (note he says “God”, not “god” in this quote).  The Holy Spirit brings man to an end of himself by showing man himself in the mirror (S.O.S. – the law “shows our sins”) so that He also might reveal to him the Savior (S.O.S. – the Gospel “shows our Savior”).  So all this all can and should be seen in an evangelistic context, leading to Jesus Christ.

And let’s get to the Savior.  There is no doubt that what Hart says above could be true for those who have not explicitly heard of Jesus Christ’s first advent in the flesh but yet tacitly trust in Trinity – here one thinks about Melchizedek, Cornelius, and other saints who longed to have the mystery of their faith fleshed out (which it literally was when the Son of God “tabernacled” among us and never stopped being man).

HummelOn the other hand, what Hart says above also seems to be compatible with what Jews and Muslims believe about God.  But many – most – in these religions reject Jesus Christ as he is portrayed in the Scriptures, perhaps even after they have learned more about him.  As regards their belief in the God that can be known to humans, one might even sometimes suspect they are saying God can be known in terms of what God is not in this particular sense: anyone except that all-inclusive and all-exclusive Jesus Christ!  And here we must continue to speak hard words accompanied with the greatest love and concern, for we know from the book of John that those who reject Jesus reject the Father.

This is the message that Christians must not back down from (see the recent post I did about one of the weaknesses of Pope Francis’ most recent encyclical) – for we must keep in mind that he has freely chosen to “prove Himself” sufficiently – and finally in Christ – already.* 

And here is where our proclamation, in countering Christological apophasis (denial), must be both apophatic** and cataphatic.  When we look at the teachings of religions as they relate to Jesus, we must get apophatic, saying something like: “God is not like that.  This view of God is false, and this is serious – you do not have the true god if you really hold to these teachings.  The words you cling to are not, like Jesus’, ‘Spirit and life’.  We do not – cannot – live from these words.”  

Alongside of this would be cataphatic evangelism, or proclamation (God can be known affirmatively!) Let’s flesh this out – first here in print, and then, in our very lives.  First, for the Christian, it is Gospel, or good news, that “every knee shall bow” before the risen Christ.  This message is the ultimate culmination of Christ’s work at the cross and means absolute freedom from sin, death, and the devil and all who do his will (the “world”)!  Not so for the unbeliever.  Apart from the Holy Spirit revealing to them that Christ is truly their Savior from sin and judgment as well, such preaching of the resurrected Christ can be severe and condemning law (see John 16:8-11).  Second, such proclamation simultaneously asserts that the Gospel (see I Cor. 15 for a definition!) is foolishness to the world and that the Gospel is “true and reasonable.”  Like Hart above, it calls out the unbeliever’s bluffs.

Its alive!  Go for the throat of the Christianity and find yourself converted?

Its alive! Go for the throat of the Christianity and find yourself converted?

Recently, I have been having a conversation about an earnest young disciple of Christ about the Christian message and epistemology.  Here is a clip of our conversation (see the bold in particular):

[student:]  if we believe Christianity is true, shouldn’t we believe that a good pursuit of truth will arrive at Christianity?

[My response:]  Yes, we should – even as our difficulty here is that the Christian can never cease to proclaim Christ.  The whole point is that how do we get a “good pursuit of truth”?  Is any starting point on this journey as good as any other?  Or will some make us go down “bunny paths” that end up being roads to hell?  How can we even know where to start?  A few points here – I do not think we can start being “neutral” about whether or not there is a divine being – something, however we define it, that is responsible for everything that exists, that has great power, and that has influence in our lives over what we should do and what our future holds (see my series on Lutheran anthropology for non-Lutherans where I go into more detail on all this).  That said, even if the person says they are “agnostic” about “God” there may still be hope if they show interest in this next claim I make, which is…

Want Contact?

Want Contact?

Second, I do not think that we can start being “neutral” towards Christian claims upon hearing them.  They demand to be taken seriously and demand our full attention and engagement.  Why these claims over the claims of any other world religion?  Why should Christianity and the truths it purports to preach get our attention?  Well, does any other religion claim to vindicate its founder – who incidently, claimed to be God, via a resurrection from the dead? (not to mention all the miracles leading up to that final, crowning miracle – ponder, for example, Mark 2:9-11 here).  Does any other world religion claim to offer proof, assurance, “faith” – that we can know who it is who will in the future judge the world? (see Acts 17).  None.  Therefore, anyone who does not take these things seriously – is, by definition, not being rational.  Would most philosophers agree with me?  I don’t think so.  And even if some found it to be an intriguing argument, perhaps they may say, after looking at things, that there is “insufficient evidence” for what Christianity claims.  Then what?  Well, do they get to decide what sufficient evidence is?  Might they be under any obligation to reconsider and look again?  Who charges them to do so?  How deeply did they look into it?  Did they do so prayerfully?  At this point however, they might say “it sounds to me like you are saying I need to ‘let go’ and become a believer in order to do this process correctly!”

"Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?" -- Jeremiah 23:29

“Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?” — Jeremiah 23:29

At the time, I went on to write to him “And to that I would say, ‘I think you are right’ – because the Scriptures would seem to imply that persons both seek God (Acts 17) and do not seek Him (Rom 3).  What can this mean?”  That said, upon further reflection, I do not think that is the case – at least not always.  We are in the realm of the preaching of the law here (which can provoke examination over fear alone), and not only this, but just like a person might say “I know that is wrong and against God’s command but I am going to do it anyway”, they might also say “I know that this is true but I am not going to concern myself with it anyway”.  Here, of course, we must urge them otherwise – to avoid so great a danger.

Now, I am willing to grant that this kind of word may not be “the law”, strictly speaking (though I think of Luther’s admonition that the commandment about the Sabbath day finds its fulfillment in the willing hearing of the word [which converts us!] – something that even sinful man can decide to do).  Nevertheless, at the very least, I submit that such words are meant to go hand in hand with the preaching of God’s law as its “handmaid”.  I think that words analogous to these are those that Christians around the world should be using as we confront a world that has not truly begun to see the beauty – the saving beauty – of the Lord Jesus Christ.

How beauty saves the world.

How beauty saves the world.

And let these words be accompanied by acts of love and a gentle spirit (I Peter 3:15, and II Tim 2:24-26).

FIN

* Gary Habermas on the apologetic methodology found in the Scriptures:

“Over and over again, with the help of several checks and balances, we are told to test God’s revelation to us.  To be reminded of just a few of these, potential prophets are to be tested according to their own predictions (Deut. 18:21-22).  More than once, God gives a similar test to other gods – let them predict the future and bring it to pass so that we may see and know that they are gods (Isa. 41:21-24; 44:7).  God passed his own test (Isa. 41:25-29, 42:9, 44:24-28; 46:10; 48:5, 14).  Perhaps most interesting for our purposes is that Israel was called to be his witness of these mighty historical acts of confirmation (Isa. 44:6-8, 52:6).  God could have simply sent his listeners his Word, but he apparently did not think that these challenges to look at history were improper references to an authority about his written revelation. 

Miracles also served such a test.  While seeking an incredible heavenly sign, Elijah announced, ‘The god who answers by fire – he is God.’  The people were challenged to view an awesome miracle as God’s vindication of his prophet and message (I Kings 18:20-45).  Centuries later, Jesus performed miracles on the spot to show John the Baptist that he was the Messiah (Luke 7:18-23).  Both Peter (Acts 2:22-24) and Paul (Acts 17:30-31) proclaimed that Jesus’ resurrection was the validation of Jesus’ teachings. 

These are just a few texts where both believers and unbelievers were told to examine history to ascertain God’s truth.  Audiences were regularly encouraged to use their minds and their eyes.  They were witnesses.  But there is no hint that these evidential challenges displeased God by suggesting ultimate standards being applied to his revelation.  Indeed, God often made the challenge himself.’ Quoted in Steven B. Cowan, ed., Five Views on Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MN: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000) 245, 246.

** According to Wikipedia, the word apophatic, while typically used in conjunction with a theology that only speaks in terms of “what may not be said about the perfect goodness that is God” (instead of cataphatic theology) simply means “to deny” (Ancient Greek: ἀπόφασις, from ἀπόφημι – apophēmi).

Paul on Mars Hill and Kurt Marquart from www.angelfire.com ; Jodi Foster: shenews.projo.com

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The “true and reasonable” confrontables of the Christian faith – considering David Bentley Hart’s approach through Lutheran eyes (part I of II)

Festus: “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul: "I am speaking true and rational words."

Festus: “Paul, you are out of your mind; your great learning is driving you out of your mind.” Paul: “I am speaking true and rational words.”

At the Eclectic Orthodoxy blog, Father Al Kimel has been talking about Dr. David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God.  Previously, I had been deeply impressed by Hart’s Atheist Delusions.

It sounds like the new book, also written with atheists in mind, will pack quite a punch as well.  What follows are some quotes that Father Kimel posted on his blog:

“[God is the] primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10).

Here is a quote that relates to this blog’s “infant theology” approach:

I start from the conviction that many of the most important things we know are things we know before we can speak them; indeed, we know them—though with very little in the way of concepts to make them intelligible to us—even as children, and see them with the greatest immediacy when we look at them with the eyes of innocence. But, as they are hard to say, and as they are often so immediate to us that we cannot stand back from them objectively, we tend to put them out of mind as we grow older, and make ourselves oblivious to them, and try to silence the voice of knowledge that speaks within our own experiences of the world. Wisdom is the recovery of innocence at the far end of experience; it is the ability to translate some of that vision into words, however inadequate. There is a point, that is to say, where reason and revelation are one and the same. (pp. 9-10).*

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

I would simply add that we also try to silence the voice of knowledge that speaks within our own experiences of the word, not just world.  Nor will reason and revelation ever be fully one until Christ returns and abolishes all of man’s sin.

God is “the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things” (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by “being” we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by “being” we wish to signify God as “the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation” (p. 30)…. God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one” (p. 31, bolded parts italicized in Hart).

Wow.  So I thought about bolding that whole paragraph above.  Yes, that sounds right.

Try this one:

The world is unable to provide any account of its own actuality, and yet there it is all the same. In that instant one recalls that one’s every encounter with the world has always been an encounter with an enigma that no merely physical explanation can resolve. (pp. 88-89)….

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Click on image to go to Amazon page

Along with this, I have in the past said that “even the man claiming atheism trusts the being responsible for all that he can see, hear, feel, etc. – not personally as the giver of all good gifts, but rather as the one who is there – and therefore as the one whom he can and must define himself against.  All know, at some level, that making God go away is impossible. Hence the quip about the atheist knowing that God does not exist and also that he hates him.”

Hart talks about what distinguishes Christian theism from others forms of belief in “god”:

The gods are enfolded within nature and enter human thought at the most exalted expressions of its power; they emerge from the magnificent energy of the physical order. God, however, is first glimpsed within nature’s still greater powerlessness—its transitoriness and contingency and explanatory poverty. He is known or imagined or hoped for as that reality that lies beyond the awful shadow of potential nothingness that falls across all finite things, the gods included. (pp. 94-95)

Lutherans distinguish between the theology of the glory (God is found in power, success, and fireworks) and the theology of the cross (God is found in simple, weak, and unassuming things) here and so I find this kind of thinking particularly intriguing. 

If one is really to seek “proof” one way or the other regarding the reality of God, one must recall that what one is seeking is a particular experience, one wholly unlike an encounter with some mere finite object of cognition or some particular thing that might be found among other things. One is seeking an ever deeper communion with a reality that at once exceeds and underlies all other experiences. If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God. And yet one is placed in the presence of God in every moment, and can find him even in the depth of the mind’s own act of seeking. As the source, ground, and end of being and consciousness, God can be known as God only insofar as the mind rises from beings to being, and withdraws from the objects of consciousness toward the wellsprings of consciousness itself, and learns to see nature not as a closed system of material forces but in light of those ultimate ends that open the mind and being each to the other. All the great faiths recognize numerous vehicles of grace, various proper dispositions of the soul before God, differing degrees of spiritual advancement, and so forth; but all clearly teach that there is no approach to the knowledge of God that does not involve turning the mind and the will toward the perception of God in all things and of all things in God. This is the path of prayer—contemplative prayer, that is, as distinct from simple prayers of supplication and thanksgiving—which is a specific discipline of thought, desire, and action, one that frees the mind from habitual prejudices and appetites, and allows it to dwell in the gratuity and glory of all things. As an old monk on Mount Athos once told me, contemplative prayer is the art of seeing reality as it truly is; and, if one has not yet acquired the ability to see God in all things, one should not imagine that one will be able to see God in himself. (pp. 320-321)**

Hart: “If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God.”  Me: That said, of course the Physical Object par excellence, the Incarnate One who entered history, might find you.

Hart: If one could sort through all the physical objects and events constituting the universe, one might come across any number of gods (you never know), but one will never find God. Me: That said, of course the Physical Object par excellence, the Incarnate One who entered history, might find you.  And you should be listening to Him and those He has sent…

Initially, I’m not sure what to do with that when I read it, but then I read Kimel’s gloss:

“It is precisely because God is “the unity of infinite being and infinite consciousness, and the reason for the reciprocal transparency of finite being and finite consciousness each to the other, and the ground of all existence and all knowledge” that the way of contemplation is appropriate and necessary (p. 324).”

Again Hart:

No one is obliged to make such an effort; but, unless one does, any demands one might make for evidence of the reality of God can safely be dismissed as disingenuous, and any arguments against belief in God that one might have the temerity to make to others can safely be ignored as vacuous” (pp. 327-328).”

How might a serious Lutheran further reflect on Hart’s words here?  I can’t speak for all of us, but I will speak for myself regarding this question in tomorrow’s post.  The caption on the picture gives a preview.

FIN

*Kimel comments: I am reminded of Gerald Janzen’s words: “We experience more than we know; and we know more than we can think; and we think more than we can say; and language therefore lags behind the intuitions of immediate experience.

** Kimel comments on the book in his first post: “Hart reaches out beyond his Christian faith to Judaism, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, as well as ancient Greek philosophy. He is not promoting a generic theistic religion; but he does want his readers to see that the human longing for the transcendent “lies at the heart of all human culture” (p. 6). It cannot be trivially or arrogantly dismissed as primitive superstition. Yes, terrible evils have been done, and continue to be done, in the name of religion; yet it also remains true that “most of the unquestionably sublime achievements of the human intellect and imagination have arisen in worlds shaped by some vision of transcendent truth” (p. 6).”

Paul pic: Wikipedia, Trial of the Apostle Paul, Nikolai Bodarevsky, 1875 ; Hart pic: tamedcynic.org

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

A Lutheran reaction to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (part III of III)

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” – Luke 2:34b-35

“Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” – Luke 2:34b-35

Part I

Part II

In his recent sermon on Nov. 28, Pope Francis, speaking about the persecution of the end times, pointedly asked his hearers: “Do I adore Jesus Christ, the Lord?  Or, a little half and half, do I in some way play [the] game of the prince of this world?” 

And when they are ready to give Caesar his pinch?   See post and comments here: http://thebarebulb.com/2013/06/04/photographic-evidence/

And when they are ready to give Caesar his pinch? See post and comments here

It is a great question, and one that we in Christendom should be constantly asking ourselves.  As we Lutherans like to point out, we have been in the “end times” since Christ’s ascension, even as things will indeed progress (regress).

This brings me to today’s critical evaluation of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, focusing on two areas of critique in particular.  I submit that in spite of the Pope’s better judgment, which is in evidence in his recent sermon, the second large problem with the encyclical is that Francis eschews the hard words of Christ about the division he brings.

Francis identifies religious dialogue (along with concern for the poor) as one of two things that are “fundamental at this time in history”, since he believes that “[it] will shape the future of humanity”.  One of the reasons for this is so that

“we can then join one anoth­er in taking up the duty of serving justice and peace, which should become a basic principle of all our exchanges. A dialogue which seeks social peace and justice is in itself, beyond all merely practical considerations, an ethical commitment which brings about a new social situation.” (250)

One can certainly appreciate Francis’ political instincts and desire for all persons of different faiths to live with one another as neighbors who are eager to love one another – this is one aspect of the the “revolution of tenderness” Francis rightly calls for.  It seems to me that no Christian should think otherwise.  Further, when Francis speaks of religious dialogue, he does evince some highly intelligent and necessary nuance.  For instance, in paragraph 251, he wisely says that “a facile syn­cretism would ultimately be a totalitarian gesture on the part of those who would ignore greater values of which they are not the masters”, and

“What is not helpful is a diplomatic openness which says ‘yes’ to everything in order to avoid problems, for this would be a way of deceiving others and denying them the good which we have been given to share generously with oth­ers.Evangelization and interreligious dialogue, far from being opposed, mutually support and nourish one another.”

Another open question?

Another open question?

And yet here is where we must go further to deal with spiritual realities.  It will not do to simply insist, in the case of the Jews, for example, that “we [do not] include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9)” or that “with them we accept his revealed word” of “the one God who acts in history” (247).  How does this not run roughshod over some of the extremely difficult words that Jesus spoke in chapters 5, 8, and 10 in the book of John for example? 

Yes, Jesus was undoubtedly a man of peace and yet said some difficult things about the spiritual conflict His message inevitably revealed – and brought  – as well.  So one glaring issue with his encyclical is this: Francis speaks little or perhaps not at all of the division and sword Christ brings.  Many of the words he speaks are beautiful and both portray and adorn the Gospel of Christ, and yet, overall, it lacks the kind of balance that is befitting for Christ’s message.  The Gospel is good news because we are saved from sin, death, and the devil – and this includes all who set themselves up against Christ and His people as well – those who “do not have the love of God in their hearts” (see John 8)

Or is this one closed with no going back?  Cardinal Dolan: “You love God, we love God and he is the same God” -- http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/06/cardinal_dolan_visits_first_mo.html#/0

Or is this one closed with no going back?  You to Cardinal Dolan?: “You love God, we love God and he is the same God” (from here)

How can we hold up Jesus Christ as Francis does – is He not beautiful?  Is He not mighty?  Thank God Jesus is God! – and simultaneously refuse to make explicit that those gods who are not Him are false?  That they do not add to life, but take away from it?  That the True God does not so much work through other religions, but in spite of them?

Simply put: It is not charity to give persons false comfort about their insufficient conceptions of the deity – their false gods which cannot save.  One must not think that by inviting noble pagans to the table apart from faith in Christ, as Zwingli did Socrates, that one will remain at the table.  Darkness and light will not have communion with one another.

Francis’ message strikes a definite Gospel tone – it is a message that would not be possible apart from the strong love of Christ – and yet it is also a mitigated Gospel, a compromised Gospel, one that does not give full–throated glory to God and the reign of His Christ.  Yes, if anything good happens in the world it is from Christ.  That said, Christ also speaks harshly to those false gods who would displace him – He is not at war with “their” people, but he is at war with them.  Why?  Because He is at war with all that is not explicitly related to Him and His saving work – the only Source of Light, Love, and Life.

You know, Luther's issues aside, the church wasn't all wrong about this

You know, Luther’s issues aside, the church wasn’t all wrong about this

Even more disturbing, and connected with the last post that dealt with faith and works, is this statement from Francis:

Non-Christians, by God’s gracious in­itiative, when they are faithful to their own consciences, can live “justified by the grace of God”,and thus be “associated to the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ”.  But due to the sac­ramental dimension of sanctifying grace, God’s working in them tends to produce signs and rites, sacred expressions which in turn bring others to a communitarian experience of journeying to­wards God (254).”

She comes with the sword of the Word as well - befitting of her womanhood.

She comes with the sword of the Word as well – befitting of her womanhood.

I cannot help but conclude that this kind of teaching is deadly to both Christians and non-Christians, and will not encourage authentic evangelization at all.  Strange as it may seem, this perhaps more “militant” model of proclamation I am putting forth here is not opposed to what Francis says when he speaks of Mary as a model of evangelization:

“This interplay of justice and tender­ness, of contemplation and concern for others, is what makes the ecclesial community look to Mary as a model of evangelization. We implore her maternal intercession that the Church may become a home for many peoples, a mother for all peoples, and that the way may be opened to the birth of a new world.”

The valid insight regarding Mary as a model of evangelization must go hand in hand with the clear word of Christ that His message was bound to cause stumbling and division.  They are one in the same cloth – as much as the world would have us separate these things, fearing a more manly, confident, and intransigent proclamation of Christ and His work.  For this reason, we look to Him – and pray to Him – for the word’s evangelization.  Not to her, as Francis does to end his encyclical (288).

I am confident Mary would have it no other way.

The third and final concern I would like to bring up briefly is that Francis sometimes seems to pit a love for the lost against salutary traditions to which the faithful might cling.  There is no doubt that it is easy to criticize the tactless and insensitive actions of some of the members of the Society of St. Pius X (see “A Profanation Protesting Profanation“).  Here, his words in paragraph 94 perhaps should come to mind: “It is impossible to think that a genuine evangelizing thrust could emerge from these adulterated forms of Christianity”.  That said, what about more traditional believers who are far less radical?  Really, what prevents the Catholic church from having joint worship services with rabbis, for example, as much as possible?  Why not do so if they will simply refrain from condemning out loud the message of Christ?   Why would a refusal to join in worship with them not also be intolerant and divisive – even “aggressive”?

Francis is at his best when he talks about the freedom we have in Christ to be open to others and creative in the ways we reach out to them.  That said, I sense that his thinking is less developed when it comes to dealing with the questions dealing with difficult issues of having a beneficial sense of order in the church (see 41, 94, 95, 118, 131).  For example, these words seem a bit hard: “In some people we see an ostentatious preoccupation for the liturgy, for doctrine and for the Church’s prestige, but without any concern that the Gospel have a real impact on God’s faithful people and the con­crete needs of the present time.” (95)

In a marriage, there are certain things that a man might do that are not sinful in and of themselves, but nevertheless become genuine failures of love – which lead to tension in the relationship – when done in that context.   Here, as one dares to evangelize as much as possible, one must not ignore or disregard one’s brothers’ concerns, particularly the ones one deems to be weak in faith.

George Weigel says of Francis: “He is not afraid of criticism, he learns from his mistakes, and he wants his collaborators to challenge him when they think he’s wrong.”

I hope that is true of both him and folks like myself – by the grace of our merciful Christ, who is always eager to strengthen, and if need be restore, us to the peace we have with the Father in Him (Romans 5:1) – that we may know we have eternal life (I John 5:13).

To pass on the joy.

FIN

*”In his daily homily Pope Francis reflected on the end times, saying that faith will be increasingly pushed out of the public square and that persecution of Christians is a “prophecy” of what is to come…

These worldly powers which seek to destroy God, noted the Pope, also manifest in the contemporary desire to keep religion as “a private thing,” alluding to the fact that today many religious symbols have become taboo.

“You must obey the orders which come from worldly powers. You can do many things, beautiful things, but not adore God. Worship is prohibited. This is at the center of the end of time.”

Once we “reach the fullness of this pagan attitude,” the Pope continued, “then yes, he will come…’ truly the Son of Man will come in a cloud with great power and glory.’”

Christians who “suffer times of persecution, times of prohibition of worship” because of their beliefs, are a prophecy of what will happen to us all,” he emphasized.”

 
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Posted by on December 4, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

A Lutheran reaction to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (part II of III)

Anfechtungen-slaying wisdom... let us attend!   Potential collaborator for Francis?

Anfechtungen-slaying wisdom… let us attend! Potential collaborator for Francis?

Part I

In today’s discussion of Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, I will mention the first of three things I must take issue with.

First, even beautiful exhortations to proclaim Christ can condemn the Christian and load him with heavy burdens.

Yes, there is no doubt that reading the encyclical can be an uplifting and inspiring experience.  The heart of Christ bursts with mercy and kindness, Francis reminds us, and the joy of knowing Christ is for all persons, even as it if for us also.  Good!

That said, the persistent exhortations to be more “completely mission oriented” (28), “permanently in a state of mission” (25) to always be “missionary disciples” (120), and even exhortations towards a “revolution of tenderness” may not only inspire, but also – unintentionally – mercilessly condemn.  Francis warns of speaking “more about law than about grace” (38), but here is where it is likely that not a few reading his encyclical may realize a desperate need to hear a word of absolving grace personally applied.  After all, there are times that the Christian, burdened by the ongoing presence of his old Adam, the weight of the world, and Satan’s attacks, is only going to hear in these exhortations that which he is not doing but should be doing – things that God in fact requires and even demands that he do.*

One practical effect of this is that it may well cause a believer to look to his works as the source of security in his relationship with God – instead of the words of forgiveness, life and salvation that bring true peace (Rom. 5:1).  His good works become the actions that continually merit peace with God – by grace of course!  In Francis’ letter, this viewpoint is easily reinforced from the quotes he mentions about the power of alms to atone for one’s sins, for example (he even uses the passage of “love covering over a multitude of sins” in this way**  ….see this for a more helpful view of penance).  Even more disturbing is the fact that many of the works Francis recommends are not those not in harmony with the Scriptures: devotion to Mary (mentioning her in the same breath as the Holy Spirit, 284-287), pilgrimages, rosaries (all mentioned in passing) and other misplaced popular piety (124-126)

This conception of salvation?  It’s a trap!

This conception of salvation? It’s a trap!

Of course, at this point, I am simply getting into what has historically distinguished Lutherans from Catholics.  No big mystery.  So why approach things this way?  The reason is that we all hear Christ’s words from the same Scriptures – and as faith comes by hearing the word, persons are indeed “interpreted” and formed by the Holy Spirit – no matter what their “denominational affiliation”.  Here is the common ground!  That said, there is also the reality that Satan aims to deceive us, tempt us, and lead us away from Christ.  Here is where Lutherans insist that when the pope writes: “We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which can­not mislead or disappoint“, we must, sadly, raise some concerns. For we truly believe that the words “treasure”, “message”, and even “evangelists” are in danger here of misleading and ultimately disappointing in God’s final judgment!

Back to Francis’ words.  It is not at all clear that he discerns that his words may very well leave open the door of despair (or, alternatively, pride) to man: “The very mystery of the Trinity reminds us that we have been cre­ated in the image of that divine communion, and so we cannot achieve fullfillment or salvation purely by our own efforts.” (178)  Ah, so my efforts do play a role here, one may logically conclude.  Who, when examining their lives, cannot on occasion feel that the following statement is more true of them than not: “The message is one which we often take for grant­ed, and can repeat almost mechanically, without necessarily ensuring that it has a real effect on our lives and in our communities.”

satan1And here, Satan may well find his opening: “You know, how can you even be sure that you are really a Christian?  What important (not necessarily in the eyes of the world of course!) works have you done lately?  Do you not know that faith without works is dead?”  As Pope Francis reminds us “even Sa­tan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14 – 152), and so these attacks may be very subtle indeed.  That said, the effects of the attacks are not so subtle.  As the Lutheran theologian David Lumpp puts it: “[in] the presence of AnfechtungenChrist is obscured from view, and one appears to confront God directly and alone  (and usually the Deus absconditus at that).  The symptoms invariably accumulate and conspire.  One’s status as peccator dwarfs the reality of iustus.  One dwells on sin and law.  One deems forgiveness a life – or at best a gift intended and real only for others.  Mercy and grace seem nowhere to be found.  Potentially, one despairs of salvation itself” (p. 87, First Things First: a primer in Lutheran theological prolegomena)satan2

And during this attack, what is it that can raise the believer up in confidence again?  To what or to whom should they look?  What word or exhortation can give them the peace of knowing that they are in fact, really Christians?  A word to do this or that?  Or rather, a word like this:

“All your sins are forgiven you.  Christ has removed them as far as the east from the west.  Go in peace and serve the Lord!”

And as Luther says:

“For the words are easy; but in temptation [tentatione] it is the hardest thing possible [difficillium] to be surely persuaded [certo statuere] in our hearts that we have the forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone, entirely apart from any other means in heaven and on earth…we must form the habit of leaving ourselves behind as well as the Law and all our works, which force us to pay attention to ourselves.  We must turn our eyes completely to that bronze serpent, Christ nailed to the cross…” (LW 26: 27, 166-167, quoted in Lumpp, 126, 89)

lutherpreachingchristHe expands more on what this might mean, practically:

‘Therefore the afflicted conscience has no remedy against despair and eternal death except to take hold of the promise of grace offered in Christ, that is, this righteousness of faith, this passive or Christian righteousness, which says with confidence [cum fiducia] ‘I do not seek active righteousness.  I ought to have it and perform it; but I declare that even if I did have it and perform it, I cannot trust in it or stand up before the judgment of God on the basis of it.  Thus I put myself beyond all active righteousness, all righteousness of my own or of the divine Law, and I embrace only that passive righteousness which is the righteousness of grace, mercy, and the forgiveness of sins.’  In other words, this is the righteousness of Christ and of the Holy Spirit, which we do not perform but receive [patimur], which we do not have but accept, when God the Father grants it to us through Jesus Christ.” (LW 26:5-6, quoted in Lumpp, 87, 88)

One might hope that men like Pope Francis would be eager to accept Martin Luther’s articulation of what it means to receive the absolving words of forgiveness here.  Clearly Martin Luther did not believe in the message of grace at the expense of the law (antinomianism)!  But sadly, this message of “justification” is precisely what the Council of Trent condemned and that condemnation has never been rescinded.

Peter[, I love you, but] get behind me…

[Peter, I love you, but] get behind me…

“Lord have mercy” we pray.

FIN

*Francis does have some good words to share here, in the context of hearing what the Scriptures have to say to us:

“Another common temptation is to think about what the text means for other people, and so avoid applying it to our own life. It can also happen that we look for excuses to water down the clear meaning of the text. Or we can wonder if God is demanding too much of us, asking for a decision which we are not yet prepared to make. This leads many people to stop taking pleasure in the encounter with God’s word; but this would mean forgetting that no one is more patient than God our Father, that no one is more understanding and willing to wait. He always invites us to take a step forward, but does not demand a full response if we are not yet ready. He simply asks that we sincerely look at our life and present ourselves honestly before him, and that we be willing to continue to grow, asking from him what we ourselves cannot as yet achieve.” (153)

The law does condemn us entirely, but there are wise pastoral words here as well: the one broken in sins who is not trying to justify himself before God does not need the full condemning force of the law applied to him, even if he knows that God will ultimately have him fulfill the law to the uttermost (Romans 8:3-4).

** “The apostle James teaches that our mercy to others will vindicate us on the day of God’s judgment”(193).

From or around paragraph 197: “Almsgiving delivers from death, and it will purge away every sin” (Tob 12:9). The idea is expressed even more graphically by Sirach “Water extinguishes blazing fire: so almsgiving atones for sin” (Sir 3:30). The same synthesis ap­pears in the New Testament: “Maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Pet 4:8).

This truth greatly influenced the thinking of the Fathers of the Church and helped create a prophetic, counter-cultural resist­ance to the self-centred hedonism of paganism. We can recall a single example: “If we were in peril from fire, we would certainly run to water in order to extinguish the fire… in the same way, if a spark of sin flares up from our straw, and we are troubled on that account, whenever we have an opportunity to perform a work of mercy, we should rejoice, as if a fountain opened before so that the fire might be extinguished” (SaintAugustine, De Catechizandis Rudibus, I, XIX, 22: PL 40, 327).

“I was hungry and you gave me food to eat”, and he taught them that mercy towards all of these is the key to heaven (cf. Mt 25:5ff.).

Luther pic: cover of book by Heikio Oberman ; Passion of the Christ pics, Get Behind Me Satan – Wikipedia

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

A Lutheran reaction to Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Evangelii Gaudium (part I of III)

Jesus said: "I am the light of the world"... and "you are the light of the world".

Jesus said: “I am the light of the world”… and “you are the light of the world”.

(for other posts I’ve done on Francis, see here (“Hi, it’s Pope Francis here.”  God calling to?), here (The enigma of Pope Francis?), and here (Pope Francis – a pastor – speaks))

The other day, I noted with interest First Thing’s report on Pope Francis’ lengthy new encyclical (given its length, one can hardly blame the media for initially focusing on the economic issues it deals with [a good piece here] but hopefully, after reading the whole thing, they will see that George Weigel is right – see paragraphs 34-39, 65 in the encyclical where Francis tries to make very clear his program).  The new Pope is a gifted writer and communicator, and I think that the moral authority of his life – often convicting even while uplifting – will draw many to hear what he has to say.   A man of many gifts, his enthusiasm about the “Joy of the Gospel” and his eagerness to share that message far and wide is indeed contagious – I found much of it to be particularly powerful. 

In particular, Francis mentions several notions that will appeal to serious Lutherans. 

Click image to go to encyclical

Click image to go to encyclical

First, like his predecessor, he highlights that the work of the evangelist often seems fruitless and that it “is something much deeper, which escapes all measurement”: “The Holy Spirit works as he wills, when he wills and where he wills; we en­trust ourselves without pretending to see striking results” (paragraph 279, see also 22, 82).*

Second, Francis also mentions on at least two occasions (in parts 136 and 142) the great importance of hearing the word proclaimed, as faith comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17).  In discussing preaching in particular, Francis says it is essential that the preacher is “certain that God loves him, that Jesus Christ has saved him and that his love al­ways has the last word” (151).  Again, “On the lips of the catechist the first proclamation must ring out over and over: ‘Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you’” (164, see 42 as well).

Third, in paragraph 175, Francis points out that The sacred Scrip­tures are the very source of evangelization.” Merging Benedict’s words with his, he says “….We do not blindly seek God, or wait for him to speak to us first, for ‘God has already spoken, and there is nothing further that we need to know, which has not been revealed to us’” before ending with “Let us receive the sublime treasure of the re­vealed word”.

Fourth, in discussing the great importance of reaching out to the poor (something we remember that Paul in Galatians, that great epistle about justification, was especially eager to do), I was encouraged to read the following,

“Since this Exhortation is addressed to members of the Catholic Church, I want to say, with regret, that the worst discrimination which the poor suffer is the lack of spiritual care. The great majority of the poor have a special open­ness to the faith; they need God and we must not fail to offer them his friendship, his blessing, his word, the celebration of the sacraments and a journey of growth and maturity in the faith. Our preferential option for the poor must main­ly translate into a privileged and preferential re­ligious care” (200).

I was especially struck by a quotation from John Paul II:

“The missionary is convinced that, through the work­ing of the Spirit, there already exists in individ­uals and peoples an expectation, even if an un­conscious one, of knowing the truth about God, about man, and about how we are to be set free from sin and death. The missionary’s enthusiasm in proclaiming Christ comes from the convic­tion that he is responding to that expectation” (John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris Missio (7 December 1990), 45: AAS 83 (1991), 292.)  (265)

Immediately after this JP II quotation, Francis goes on to say:

“Enthusiasm for evangelization is based on this conviction. We have a treasure of life and love which cannot deceive, and a message which can­not mislead or disappoint.  It penetrates to the depths of our hearts, sustaining and ennobling us. It is a truth which is never out of date be­cause it reaches that part of us which nothing else can reach. Our infinite sadness can only be cured by an infinite love.”

On the one hand, this is a good reminder for Lutherans like myself, because it is very easy for us to simply focus on the fact that those in darkness are, as Paul says, rebels and enemies towards God – that it, those who can only be broken and raised to eternal life through the work of God’s Spirit.  Even if people might be seeking a “God” of their own liking and escape from only certain sins, all sense that death should not be the end and that we were made for something more, for eternity is in the heart of every human being. 

On the other hand, I think it is more interesting to think about how this must necessarily go hand in hand with what Francis says a few paragraphs later: Beyond all our own pref­erences and interests, our knowledge and moti­vations, we evangelize for the greater glory of the Father who loves us. It seems to me that this is the even greater motivation to evangelize: to proclaim and shout out the all-encompassing love of the Father shared in Jesus Christ for the whole world – a death for the forgiveness of the “sins of the world” – which includes even us and our sins.  Even me!

Further discussing the Christian’s motive for the evangelistic task, Francis goes on to write:

But this conviction has to be sustained by our own constantly renewed experience of savouring Christ’s friendship and his message. It is impossible to persevere in a fervent evange­lization unless we are convinced from personal experience that it is not the same thing to have known Jesus as not to have known him, not the same thing to walk with him as to walk blindly, not the same thing to hear his word as not to know it, and not the same thing to contemplate him, to worship him, to find our peace in him, as not to. It is not the same thing to try to build the world with his Gospel as to try to do so by our own lights. We know well that with Jesus life becomes richer and that with him it is easier to find meaning in everything. This is why we evangelize.   A true missionary, who never ceases to be a disciple, knows that Jesus walks with him, speaks to him, breathes with him, works with him. He senses Jesus alive with him in the midst of the missionary enterprise. Unless we see him present at the heart of our missionary commit­ment, our enthusiasm soon wanes and we are no longer sure of what it is that we are handing on; we lack vigour and passion. A person who is not convinced, enthusiastic, certain and in love, will convince nobody.

These are good and convicting words about the importance of a vital spirituality in our lives.  I think that most any Christian can identify with what Francis says here – even if they sometimes do not feel the joy bursting forth from them, but feel like they must, sadly, take Luther to heart as well: “make duty a pleasure”.   Old Adam remains like a yoke upon our new selves, selves that long to be “all in” with God’s will for all the time.  That said, as far as kindling this passion, Francis elsewhere talks about the importance of the Scriptures in the Christian’s life, prayer**, and of course, action – particularly in regards to the “least of these” – even more particularly to the poor who are near to us.

This is where I start to have issues with what Francis has to say – after I read what he says and reflect on the whole of his message and its trajectory, I must say that I bristled a bit as well.  There are three things about this encyclical that bothered me.  The first it that even beautiful exhortations to proclaim Christ can condemn the Christian and load him with heavy burdens.  The second is that Francis eschews the hard words of Christ about the division he brings.  The third is that Francis sometimes seems to pit a love for the lost against salutary traditions to which the faithful might cling.  Tomorrow, I will begin looking at those three things.

FIN

*he continues:  “We know only that our commitment is necessary. Let us learn to rest in the tenderness of the arms of the Father amid our creative and generous commitment. Let us keep marching forward; let us give him everything, allowing him to make our efforts bear fruit in his good time.” (279)

**and he also notes:  “There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privat­ized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.” (262)

Francis image: www.crisismagazine.com ; Encyclical image: First Thoughts blog

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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