Friday, April 29, 2011

Why I am Catholic and not Orthodox

A little while back I was challenged by an Orthodox Christian regarding the Catholic Church’s claim to be the Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ. Whilst this is a valid question, what this Orthodox Christian perhaps didn’t realise is that I have considered Orthodoxy as opposed to Catholicism. After all, in my conversion from Protestantism I was aware that Orthodoxy also has a claim to a Christian faith that stretches back all the way to the Apostles through Apostolic Tradition and Apostolic Succession.
There are many reasons why I ended up in the Catholic Church rather than an Orthodox Church. For the sake of those who have wondered, here are some of the reasons why I felt compelled to become Catholic rather than Orthodox.
Two key things for me in my journey towards the Catholic Church were unity and authority.
In considering Orthodoxy, one would need to consider which kind of Orthodox Christian to be – would I be Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox or another kind of Orthodox? And then one would need to consider which geographic “tier” to fall into e.g. Russian, Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, etc.?
 At its surface level, this might appear to be something of a question of tastes – much like deciding what kind of Catholic Rite I would feel more comfortable with e.g. Latin, Maronite, Coptic, etc. But really, the issue is deeper than that.
Our Lord Jesus Christ founded only ONE Church – a physical unified Church with one faith, one Lord, and one baptism. Unfortunately, whilst the Orthodox possess a valid Apostolic Succession, they do not possess the unity that the Catholic Church possesses. The various branches of Orthodox Christianity are not necessarily in communion with each other, and in some cases even denounce each others’ faith as heterodox.
Over against this is the Catholic Church, which overcomes this problem of disunity. Even though it embraces many Rites and cultures, it is still unified under the Bishop of Rome, who is the Successor of St. Peter. As such, it is necessary for all churches to agree with the Church of Rome. This is attested by the Church Fathers. For example, St. Irenaeus says that it is necessary for all churches to agree with the Church of Rome on the basis that it was superior in origin, being founded by Sts. Peter and Paul:
"But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition."  (Against the Heresies)
Also, St. Cyprian says that “...if a man deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, does he think that he is in the Church?” (Treatise on the Unity of the Catholic Church).
As far as I see it, as long as the Orthodox are not in communion with Rome, they are separated from the authority of Christ established within His true Church. This separation from Christ’s true authority tends to evidence itself in the divisions that exist within Orthodoxy – although this is seen on an exponentially greater scale within Protestantism. However, one reason I think that Orthodoxy hasn’t fragmented like Protestantism is because they at least hold a valid Apostolic Succession and a right understanding of the Church hierarchy established by the Apostles, which to a large degree prevents the Orthodox faithful from doing what is right in their own eyes and splintering into thousands of different denominations.
The Orthodox sometimes claim that the Church of Rome was exceeding its bounds by trying to exercise authority over the Church of Constantinople. However, this argument seems to me to fall a bit flat when one considers that in the “excommunications” of the Great Schism, the Church of Constantinople was trying to exercise authority beyond its own jurisdiction when it “excommunicated” the Church of Rome. For me this highlights the core of the problem between Rome and Constantinople; and it is the same issue that divided the Church in the period of the Protestant Reformation – it is an issue of who possesses the true authority. In claiming that Rome was exceeding her authority, it seems to me that Constantinople was using this as a smoke-screen in an attempt to assert her own authority over Rome – otherwise she would never have tried to “excommunicate” Rome.
As shown above, the Early Church understood that the Church of Rome held pre-eminence...and so it does to this day by virtue of its superior origins. Our Lord Jesus built His Church upon the Rock of St. Peter and gave him, in a personal capacity, the keys of the kingdom. And these keys have been handed down in an uninterrupted line of succession to Pope Benedict XVI today.
Also, in contrast to the divisions that exist within Orthodoxy and Protestantism, the Catholic Church possesses a true unity – the unity that our Lord Jesus prayed for, and the unity that He guards under His Vicar, the Bishop of Rome.
Once I came to understand these things i.e. that the authority of Christ was indeed vested in the Bishop of Rome, who was I to stand against that authority? To do anything less than become Catholic would have been for me an act of disobedience to our Lord Jesus Christ.

DISCLAIMER: Please note that by posting this, I am not questioning the sincerity of my Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ. It is simply a post which explains why I am Catholic and not Orthodox. Nor am I questioning the validity of the Apostolic Succession within the Orthodox faith. The Orthodox DO have a valid Apostolic Succession. In respect of the Apostolic Tradition, there is more that is similar between Orthodoxy and Catholicism than what is not. Naturally, I don’t expect my Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ to agree with my conclusions (if they did they would be Catholic) – but just like I respect their decision to be Orthodox, I trust that they respect mine to be Catholic.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Sts. John & Peter – the spirit and wisdom of the Church

Our priest during yesterday’s homily for Easter Sunday raised an interesting point. The Gospel text was John 20:1-9 which speaks of Sts. Peter and John running to the empty tomb of Jesus. St. John outran St. Peter but waited outside the tomb; however, when St. Peter arrived he went into the tomb to see where the Body of Jesus had lain. Only after St. Peter investigated did St. John enter the tomb and believe.
Our priest mentioned that the allegorical sense that the Church Fathers placed on this passage was that St. John represented the spirit of the Church, which is youthful and enthusiastic; whereas, St. Peter represented the wisdom of the Church which moves more slowly. Just like St. John arrived at the tomb, and believed so too the Church is eager to believe but it first waits for the wisdom of the Church to explore and analyse.
I thought that this was a really good allegorical application of the text. Does anyone know where in the Church Fathers I can find this?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed

In a recent blog, Christ's Death - Execution or Sacrifice, I tried to show how the Passover Meal of the Last Supper was not complete until the Lord Jesus drank the final “cup” of wine while He hung on the cruel cross and said “It is finished”. With these words, the Last Supper was completed, and His Precious Body and Blood, which He had given earlier to His disciples under the form of bread and wine, had now been broken and poured out for the sins of the whole world.
A point that I never raised previously, which is easily overlooked because it is so subtle, is that none of the Gospels recount that there was actually a Passover lamb sacrificed for the Lord’s Supper. To understand why this is so important, we need to go back to the first Passover. We often think that in order for the Israelites to be saved, they only had to sacrifice a lamb and dash its blood on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. But this is not all that was required of them. They also had to eat the Passover lamb.
The Gospels do not make mention of a lamb being sacrificed for the Last Supper Passover meal, because there was already a Lamb present – He was the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world and the disciples truly ate this Passover Lamb when Jesus said “This is my Body, take and eat” and “This is my Blood, drink it all of you”.
And just like Israel of old, if we desire God’s salvation, it is necessary that we too eat the Passover Lamb, which is why our Lord said that “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” (Jn 6:53)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Christ’s Death - Execution or Sacrifice?

As Christians we take for granted that Christ’s death on the cross is rightly understood as a sacrifice, and also the fulfilment of all the Old Testament sacrifices. But if we take a step back from what we simply take for granted, how is it that Christians came to this understanding? How did the disciples come to see that the death of Christ on the cross was more than the atrocious act of sentencing an innocent man to an ignominious death? What exactly is it that makes Christ’s death a sacrifice as opposed to an execution of an innocent man?
Obviously, there are many things that we could point to showing that the death of Jesus was more than just an execution; but the most evident would have to be the Last Supper. It was during the Last Supper that our Lord Jesus Christ, as the High Priest after the Order of Melchisdec (Heb 6:20), made an offering of bread and wine (Gen 14:18). But that was not where it stopped, because it was in this offering that He also gave Himself when He changed the bread and wine into His Precious Body and Blood when He said “This is My Body...This is My Blood...”.
But stepping back again from what we always take for granted, how is the Last Supper actually connected to Calvary? As Catholics we believe that the Last Supper CANNOT be separated from Calvary. And this is not based on a theological hypothesis...but on a real fact that is easy to miss if we don’t have an understanding of the Passover liturgy, which was the basis and context of the Lord’s Supper.
During the course of the Passover meal, 4 cups of wine were drunk. The cup which the Lord consecrated was the third cup, the cup of blessing (cf. 1 Cor 10:16), which was drunk after the eating of the Passover meal.
In the usual Passover meal, the liturgy would end with the drinking of the 4th cup of wine and the singing of the Great Hallel. What is interesting, and often overlooked, is that in the Last Supper our Lord and His disciples sang the Great Hallel (Matt 26:30), but they did not drink the 4th cup. Instead, our Lord said that He would not drink the fruit of the vine until He would drink it in the kingdom of God (Matt 26:29; Mk 14:25). And so it was that our Lord never actually concluded the Passover liturgy during the course of the Last Supper. This means that for our Lord and His disciples, the Passover liturgy was still continuing when they had left the Upper Room. It is this 4th cup that our Lord is likely referring to when He said “Let this cup pass from me...” (Matt 26:39).
In accordance with His words in Matt 26:29, our Lord refused to drink the wine that was mixed with gall which was offered to Him before He was nailed to the cross (Matt 27:34). But, when the time had come for Him to finally give up His life, He did drink of the fruit of the vine (Matt 27:48). St. John tells us that when He had received the wine (which would now be the 4th cup of the Passover meal), our Lord said “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). And with these words our Lord had completed the Passover meal of the Last Supper by offering Himself as the sacrificial Passover Lamb.
Here we see that the Last Supper of Jesus cannot be separated from Calvary. And because the Mass is the perpetual celebration of the Last Supper, it too cannot be separated from Calvary. This is why we as Catholics believe that every Mass is a sacrifice – in every Mass time is transcended and we take part in the Last Supper of Jesus Christ and the sacrifice of Himself on Calvary. And so, in the words of St. Paul “our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival...” (1 Cor 5:7-8) always giving thanks to God that He has graciously given us His Son as the Passover Lamb who takes away our sins, and not ours only but also the sins of the world (Jn 1:29; 1 Jn 2:2).

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Covenant and Communion – The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI

I have just finished reading Scott Hahn’s book “Covenant and Communion – The Biblical Theology of Pope Benedict XVI”.
I really appreciated how he brought to light the Pope’s teaching that the Scriptures are to be read and interpreted both scientifically and through the eyes of a historical faith.
But for me one of the more significant teachings of the Pope that Scott Hahn highlighted was that the Word of God is not only informative, but it is also performative and transformative. That is, it is not only a dead letter, but it really achieves what it sets out to achieve. For example, when God said “Let there be light”, He was not simply stating a fact, but His very words spoken transformed the formless void and the heavens and earth came into being. And just as Jesus, who is the True Word of God, transformed water into wine, so too by His words the bread and wine are transformed into His Body and Blood.
The summit of the Pope’s teaching then is that the goal of the Word of God is not only to inform us about where we came from and how we relate to God, but it’s goal is to transform all of creation. And this transformation begins with the proclamation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, in the Gospel. And truly the Gospel is not just a message about a Messiah that died for our sins and rose again for our justification. Certainly it is that, but it is also so much more. The Gospel is the Word that transforms those who hear it; and through this Word God conforms us more and more to our Lord Jesus Christ. So it is that by the Word of the Gospel, and the Gospel of the Word, that God completes the work that He began when He first spoke the universe into existence.
If you are interested, the book can be found at Amazon at the link below:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Circumcision and Baptismal Regeneration - Col 2:13

I was reading through St. Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians earlier this week and noticed something that I had never noticed before...
In Col 2:13 St. Paul tells the Colossians that they were once dead in their sins but now God had made them alive. What I hadn’t noticed was that St. Paul doesn’t say that they were only dead in their sins, but that they were dead in their sins AND the uncircumcision of their flesh. In other words, some part of their spiritual deadness was attributable to the fact that they had not been circumcised.
This actually made me realise that there was more to the sign of circumcision in the Old Covenant than simply the outward sign. If St. Paul says that they were dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh, then it stands to reason that those who were circumcised in the Old Covenant were actually made alive (or “regenerated”) by their circumcision.
Interestingly, this particular passage is in the context of St. Paul teaching the Colossians that they no longer need to be circumcised in order to be part of God’s covenant people. The reason St. Paul gives is that the circumcision of the flesh is replaced by the spiritual circumcision of the New Covenant (v11) which takes place in our baptism (v12).
So, in St. Paul’s thinking, just as God’s Old Covenant people of Israel were made alive in God by their circumcision, so too we as God’s New Covenant people (the Church, the continuation of Israel)  are made alive in Christ through our baptism. And that is why our Lord Jesus told Nicodemus that the new birth takes place by the power of the Holy Spirit in our baptism (Jn 3:5).
This has significant implications for us as Christians then. St. Paul goes on to tell the Colossians that because of this change that God has worked in us, our lives should show it. If we are dead to our sins, we are alive in Christ and so we should live knowing that it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. May this be our challenge especially over these last few weeks of Lent. May we give ourselves even more to living for Christ as we strive to live holy lives, and especially as we reach out in love to those around us so that they too can experience the love of Christ.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

"Prayer & Goosebumps"

We all do it...say that we'll pray for someone and then forget to do it...

Well, I came across this article today, and I thought that I would share it. It offers a handy tip to ensure that you don't forget to pray for someone that you said you would pray for. And the real life example she gives really did give me goosebumps.

Have a read, I am sure you will be encouraged...

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A Beautiful Nuptial Mass

We had the privilege yesterday of attending the wedding ceremony of a couple whom we have befriended since moving to Australia. The wedding ceremony, a traditional Nuptial Mass, was absolutely stunning...the incense, the traditional architecture, the Latin was all stunning. But the most stunning thing of all was to really experience for the first time how the marriage celebration actually fits within the Eucharistic celebration.
I am sure that when I was younger I probably attended a Catholic wedding (I think...) but I would never have appreciated it. Firstly, because even from a young age, I thought Catholics were just weird; and secondly, because I really didn’t appreciate the full significance of what marriage is.
My wife and I were married in the Baptist church, and we were fortunate enough to have been taught in our particular brand of Baptist theology, that marriage is a picture of Christ and His Church. But, as much as I understood that I really don’t think that I ever really appreciated just how significant this understanding of marriage is. 
Yesterday, we were able to experience firsthand the beauty of the marriage ceremony where it really belongs – that is, in the Mass. It is during the Mass, in Holy Communion, that our Lord Jesus Christ unites Himself in the most intimate of ways with us His Bride. That is why St. John refers to Holy Communion as the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. When a husband is being joined to a wife, and they are only but a picture of the reality that is the Lord Jesus Christ and His Church, then there is no better place to witness the marriage ceremony than in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Because it is in receiving our Lord in the Eucharist that we become One Body (i.e. Communion) with, through, and in Him.
So, Greg and Melissa, thank you so much for sharing your very special day with us. And our prayer for you is that as you grow in your marriage, God would continually pour out His grace upon both of you through this glorious Sacrament. May you always grow in being Christ to each other, and may you always experience Christ in each other.