Sunday, June 26, 2011

Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!!!

I have had a few (more) problems with my PC over the past week, and work has also been I haven’t had an opportunity to put anything together for this week’s blog. In any event, with today being the Feast of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, I thought I would share a blog that I wrote some time ago on our Lord's teaching concerning His Real Presence.

So, on that note, I hope that the blog is an encouragement to you on this Feast Day. Of course, it will not be as encouraging as our Lord Himself in the Blessed maybe take the time today to join in a Corpus Procession near you...and even take the time over the course of this week to spend with our Lord in Eucharistic Adoration.

In any event, may our prayer always be that we would grow in love for our Eucharistic Lord, until that Day when we behold His face and our love for Him is completed in Him.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Old Testament Image of God???

I have increasingly been coming across people who declare that the God of the Old Testament is different the God of the New Testament. Reading things like the wars of the people of Israel and the imprecatory Psalms, they maintain that the God of the Old Testament was a harsh Judge seeking vengeance.  On the other hand, they claim that with the coming of Christ a new image of God emerges – a God of love and compassion. And so they conclude that the God of the Old Testament is different to the God of the New Testament.

Alternatively, they might sometimes suggest that the Old Testament, consisting of the writings of men, does not necessarily present the correct image of God; but rather, they claim that the God portrayed in the Old Testament is based on a perception of God which then needed to change with the coming of Christ.

Given that I have been coming across this interpretation more regularly, I thought that it might be a good opportunity to blog on the topic. Personally, I believe that these views are mistaken, and here are just a few of my reasons why…
Whilst the Old Testament Scriptures were written by men based on their own intellect and perception of God, sometimes we can tend to forget that they were men who were ultimately guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21). St. Paul was so convinced of this truth that he goes so far as to tell us that the Old Testament Scriptures were breathed by God (2 Tim 3:16).

As Christians, with our roots in the Jewish religion, we believe that there is only one God (Deut 6:4) and together with them we worship this one true God. And since God cannot change (Heb 13:8; Jms 1:17), we need to accept that in the Scriptures we are not being presented with two opposing “Gods” or even two opposing views of God.
As noted above, there is a tendency to think of the Old Testament as showing a God that is harsh; whereas the New Testament shows God as loving, merciful, and compassionate. However, I don’t think that this tendency has any real Scriptural validity. Here are some examples:

1)      In the New Testament, “Hell” (or “Gehenna”) is mentioned 23 times, or which 16 times it is from the lips of our Lord.

2)      The New Testament contains the incident where Ananias and Sapphira died because they presumed to lie to the Holy Spirit (see Acts 5:1-11).

3)      Rev 6:9-10 speaks of the Martyrs in heaven who cry out for God’s vengeance (an allusion to the imprecatory Psalms).

4)      The author of Hebrews quotes the Old Testament when he tells us that as Christians we should expect discipline from the Lord as from a Father (Heb 12:5ff; Deut 8:5). Furthermore, consider that the author also tells us that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). He mentions this in context of the events on Mt Sinai where the people told Moses that they were afraid to approach the Lord in fear of being consumed (Deut 5:25), and God’s own response to Moses was that the Israelites were right in thinking this (Deut 5:28).

The point of the above examples is not to show that God is full of vengeance waiting for every opportunity to spring judgment on sinners. On the contrary, God is Love (1 Jn 4:16) and He is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9); instead He showed us His perfect love by giving us His only Son to make atonement for our sins (Jn 3:16). My point is that the New Testament image of God is not different from the Old Testament because the New Testament echoes the Old when it unashamedly reminds us that God is holy and does indeed judge sin.
Now, what about the Old Testament? Is it really true that the Old Testament paints God as harsh and unrelenting? Anyone who reads the Old Testament will actually find that the opposite is indeed true. The Old Testament constantly speaks of God’s mercy, grace, patience and love. If this were not true, the Lord Jesus Christ could never be the eminent image of God’s love and also be the fulfilment of the Scriptures at the same time.

We also need to remember that in the earliest days of the Church, the only Scriptures that the Christians had were the Old Testament writings; and it was on the foundation of these writings that the New Testament Scriptures emerged within the Christian tradition. It was because the Old Testament constantly revealed God’s love that the New Testament writers were able to see that love fulfilled in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, for us to be able to see the Lord Jesus Christ in the Old Testament, we need to remain within the stream of our Catholic Tradition of reading the Old and New Testaments as a unified whole:

"The Old Testament is an indispensable part of Sacred Scripture. Its books are divinely inspired and retain a permanent value, for the Old Covenant has never   been revoked.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Art. 121)

Conversely, to depart from this Catholic Tradition would be to lose sight of the Lord Jesus, because as St. Jerome reminds us: “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ”.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Icon of the Trinity

I was recently introduced to the Icon of the Trinity (pictured above). The icon was painted early in the 15th century by Andrei Rublev, an Eastern Orthodox iconographer.

The person who introduced this icon to me commented that nothing is wasted in an icon. The more I become familiar with icons, the more I am learning the truth of this. As I remarked in a recent blog on the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help, icons are wonderful because the more time you spend reflectively gazing at them, the more you learn from them. They really are the Scriptures in visual form. As such, there is so much we can learn from them.

The basis of the Icon of the Trinity is Genesis 18:1ff where we read the account of the LORD appearing to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre in the form of three men. Thus on one level, the icon is an historical depiction of this event – you can notice the oak tree and, I would hazard to guess, Abraham’s house in the background providing the historical setting.

But, as is always the case, the significance of the icon is only really appreciated when we take a deeper look. One understanding of this event is that the three men were a Theophany i.e. that this was a revelation of the Blessed Trinity in the Old Testament. It is this interpretation that the icon picks up.

Because there is so much to learn through the various icons, I thought that I would share just a few thoughts on the icon and leave the rest to you as you meditate upon it…

Firstly, notice that there are three figures, but that they are all identical in size and appearance. This points to the fundamental truth of the Trinity – that there is but one God in three “hypostasis” (or persons as we like to say). Each “person” of the Trinity is equally God. This is why each of the figures is wearing a blue garment and each is holding a sceptre – to picture that each is equally Divine. The posture of the figures is quite telling. The Son and the Holy Spirit have their heads tilted and their eyes fixed upon the Father, which speaks of their respective roles in the Trinity. The position of the Son’s hand is positioned in a way that reminds us that He has two natures – human and divine.

But without going into much more detail regarding the icon (I will leave that to you and your own reflections), I do want to touch on the thing that was probably the most special for me…and that is the chalice which is filled with the Precious Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ (remembering that this is an Eastern icon, and the practise in the East is to have the Precious Body and Blood mingled in the chalice). The Son has given His blood (indicated by the colour of His robe), and this is now being offered to the viewer, which is clear by the position of the chalice on the table i.e. it is at the point closest to the viewer. But if this is not enough to get his point across, the iconographer highlights the fact by depicting the three figures in the shape of a chalice showing that in the chalice, God is doing nothing less than offering us His very own self.

And that is the wonder and mystery of the Eucharist. Through Holy Communion, we really and truly share in the Divine life of God Almighty…and as we partake of His Divinity, we are changed more and more into His likeness.

Now, isn’t that amazing?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Contraceptives – An approach from a Christian Ethical Perspective

As Catholics, we see abortion as a great moral evil in our world because it is the murder of an innocent life. But we go even further than that because we also believe that contraception is intrinsically evil. The Catholic Church’s stance on contraception is not a popular one in the thinking of today’s world – even within Christian circles. Nowadays, most non-Catholic Christians freely practise contraception in one form or another; and sadly there are even Catholics who do not accept the Church’s teaching in this regard and blatantly ignore it.

What most Christians don’t realise is that before 1930 all Christian denominations were opposed to contraception because they understood that it was sinful. There are several reasons why the Catholic Church, as the pillar of truth, has maintained such a strong position on this most important and ancient of Christian teachings; not least of all that it is contrary to God’s purpose for married love i.e. the complete giving of the one to the other so that the two become one flesh, resulting in the “one flesh” of a child. This is why contraception is so aptly named – “contra” = against; “ception” = giving.  

Many Christians in support of contraception will claim that it is surely allowable because just as God has given us doctors with the ability to make medicines to help us with various types of sickness and ailments, so too He has given them the ability to make contraceptives that allow us to be “prudent” in spacing our children, or even preventing them altogether if need be.

A few weeks ago, my wife and I were talking about this issue and she actually came up with a gem that defeats this argument at its very root. She pointed out that medicines are morally acceptable because they help us to overcome things that entered the world as a result of the Fall i.e. they help us to alleviate the curse resulting from the sin of our first parents.

The difference with children is that they are not a curse, but a blessing. Before the Fall, God gave His blessing to Adam and Eve when He told them to be fruitful and to multiply – that is, to have children in abundance. Throughout the Scriptures, an abundance of children is seen as a blessing. So, the use of medicine is ethically and morally acceptable because it helps us to overcome a result of the Fall; but the use of contraceptives (irrespective of whether they are abortifacient or not) is intrinsically evil because it works against the blessing of God and His purpose for marriage.

After an insight like that, I have considered asking her to take over the blogging from me because that is about as theologically profound as you can get.