Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Power of the Resurrection

The Season of Lent and the celebration of the Easter Triduum, leading up to the Easter Vigil, are important observances for us as Catholics. But we can sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that they are simply commemorations of historical events that transpired 2,000 years ago. They are so much more than that...and they can be powerfully effective in our lives.
Consider the Season of Lent. Through this observance, we are called to remember and draw strength from the strength of our Lord Jesus who overcame His temptations. But when we think how many times we fail in our Lenten commitments, rather than give in we should allow ourselves to be reminded that we are not strong enough to fight against the world, the flesh, and the devil alone. No! We can only overcome insofar as we are strengthened by the power of God’s grace. We should also learn that when we fall, God the Good Father in all His graciousness is there to pick us up, to forgive us, and to set us on our way again.

After this extended time of Preparation, we come to Holy Week and specifically the beginning of the Easter Triduum. On Holy Thursday, we celebrate the Mass of the Lord’s Supper in which we are reminded of the events on the night that the Lord was betrayed. The Mass concludes with the stripping of the altar and the Blessed Sacrament being transferred to the Altar of Repose. The Procession itself is quite moving because it signifies the Lord and His disciples leaving the Upper Room – departing for the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. The sombreness of the Holy Thursday Mass is intensified by the fact that after Mass all the lights in the church are extinguished and the faithful leave the church in total silence. Then there are also those who remain with the Lord to watch and pray.
Good Friday follows – with the devotion of the Stations of the Cross in the morning, and the celebration of the Lord’s Passion at 3pm (being the hour at which Jesus gave up His spirit).  

In all of these events, Holy Mother Church is calling us to do more than simply remember what our Lord went through. Rather, we are being called to unite ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ by being immersed completely in all of these events, and so be transformed through them.
But all of these sombre events – Lent, Holy Thursday, the Passion, etc. – would be useless if it wasn’t for that greatest celebration of all – the celebration which all these things prepare us for...the celebration of the Resurrection and Easter!

Easter Sunday marks the highest day in the Catholic Church’s Liturgical Calendar. Why? Because Easter Sunday is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead; and His glorious Resurrection is the whole basis for our faith. As St. Paul reminds us in his first epistle to the Corinthians – if Christ is not risen, then our faith is empty and pointless (1 Cor 15:14). Or as the Catechism states:
The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross...” – (CCC # 638, emphasis mine)

As Catholics, we are quite familiar with the idea of being united with Christ in our sufferings (Col 1:24). When we are sick or struggling with some sort of hardship, we often hear the advice to “offer it up”. Now, this is great advice, because when we unite the sufferings that we endure with those of Christ, they are given redemptive value [see here,  here, and here  for more on this]. But this isn’t the whole story...

Just as we are called to unite ourselves with our Lord in His Passion and Death, what we are called to during the Season of Easter is to unite ourselves with His Resurrection. In other words, it is not just about being united to His sufferings – it is about being united with Him in His fullness.
This was such an important theme for St. Paul that he went so far as to say that he counted all things as nothing more than dung for the sake of gaining the Lord Jesus Christ (Phil 3:8). He went on to explain what he meant by saying that his desire was “to know Christ and the power of His Resurrection and the sharing of His sufferings by becoming like Him in His death” (Phil 3:10, NRSV).

What did St. Paul mean when he said that he wanted to share in Christ’s sufferings, and to know Him and the power of His resurrection? The word that St. Paul uses for “sharing” in Phil 3:10 (i.e. koinonia) is the same word that he uses in 1 Cor 10:16 to speaks about our “communion” in the Eucharist is our being united completely with the Lord Jesus [e.g. see here ].
So, for St. Paul, to share in Christ’s sufferings and know Him and the power of His Resurrection was more than having a theoretical knowledge. Rather, his desire was an intimate knowledge of Christ – an experiential knowledge that comes only from being completely united and immersed in the Lord Jesus Christ.

But, what does it mean to “know the power of Christ’s Resurrection”? To understand this, we need to understand what St. Paul meant by “the power of the Resurrection”.  In Eph 1:20, St. Paul talks about this “power of the Resurrection” when he says that “God put His power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead”. But what is so amazing is that he also says in Eph 1:19 that it is this same “power of the Resurrection” which is at work in the lives of the faithful.
How is this so? Well, it all starts with our baptism when, by the power of God, we are born again and raised to new life in Christ [see here and  here].

St. Paul says as much when he tells us that “all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death” and that “just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father”, so we too have been raised to “walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-5, see also Col 2:11-12).
St. Paul reminds us that if we have been raised to Christ in baptism (Col 2:11-12), we are called to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is seated, at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1). This means that as new creations, we are called to walk in a way that is worthy of the name “Christian”. And this means to walk in holiness and obedience as imitators of Jesus Christ; it means to live in the way of self-denial for the love of God and of our neighbour.

In this respect, we see that the Seasons of Lent and Easter are not mutually exclusive. Whilst the “flavour” of each Season may be different, the goal of conformity to Christ is always the same. Lent is what prepares us for Easter, and Easter is fruition of what has taken place during Lent. So, whilst our fasting has given way to feasting, may we continue this Easter Season with the same spirit of faith, hope, and love that we sought to cultivate during the Lenten Season.

Resurrection - how did St John believe before the others?

Happy Easter!
This morning as we were in Mass listening to the day’s Gospel reading, I had an interesting theory, which I thought that I’d share. The Gospel reading was taken from Jn 20:1-9:
On the first day of the week,
Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning,
while it was still dark,
and saw the stone removed from the tomb.
So she ran and went to Simon Peter
and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them,
“They have taken the Lord from the tomb,
and we don’t know where they put him.”
So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb.
They both ran, but the other disciple ran faster than Peter
and arrived at the tomb first;
he bent down and saw the burial cloths there, but did not go in.
When Simon Peter arrived after him,
he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there,
and the cloth that had covered his head,
not with the burial cloths but rolled up in a separate place.
Then the other disciple also went in,
the one who had arrived at the tomb first,
and he saw and believed.
For they did not yet understand the Scripture
that he had to rise from the dead.

After hearing that the Lord’s Body was no longer in the tomb, Sts. Peter and John ran to the site. We are told that St. John outran St. Peter, but when he arrived at the tomb, he didn’t venture in. Instead, he remained outside only peering in to see whether the words of the women were true. It was only after St. Peter had arrived, entered the tomb, and affirmed that the Lord’s Body was gone, that St. John entered the tomb.

In a previous blog , I mentioned that one allegorical interpretation of this pericope is that St. Peter (naturally) symbolises the teaching authority of the Church; whereas, St. John symbolises the spirit of the Church. Whilst the spirit of the Church is eager to believe, it always waits for the wisdom of the Church’s teaching authority before it does so.
This morning, I had an additional I said, just a theory, but food for thought nonetheless...

We are told that after St. Peter had examined the tomb, St. John entered and when he saw, he believed. Whilst we are told in verse 9 that they didn’t yet understand the Scripture that Jesus “had to rise from the dead”, St. John had some sort of faith in the Resurrected Jesus. Now, it may be that St. John was more prone to belief than St. Peter – some people just have a gift of more childlike faith than others. But, I wonder if there wasn’t something more to it – something beneath the surface that St. John wants his readers to dig deeper to find. After all, that wouldn’t be out of key with the way that St. John has written his Gospel. Leon Morris, an Anglican New Testament scholar, said that the Gospel of St. John was a pool in which a child could wade and an elephant could swim. He was right – the Gospel of John is simple to understand, and yet extremely deep in its complexity at the same time.  
Just a few verses prior to this statement of St. John’s belief (Jn 20:9), we are told that he had taken the Blessed Virgin Mary into his own home (Jn 19:27). Think about it...

Jesus died on the Cross on the Friday at 3pm; after which St. John took Mary home with him as his own mother. We are told nothing about what happened on Holy Saturday; and then on Sunday we are told that St. John “saw and believed”. What made his reaction different to St. Peter’s? I would hazard to guess that it was spending time with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Allow me to expand...
Mary stood at the foot of the Cross for the entire ordeal of the Crucifixion; but after His Body was laid in the tomb we hear no more of her – not even when it came to something as important as anointing the Body of her Son. The Blessed Virgin Mary was not in the company of the women who went on Easter Sunday morning to anoint the Body of Jesus. One would think that as His mother, she would be the first to be present for such an important event, especially given that Jesus was her only Child.

Why didn’t Our Lady attend the tomb with the other women? I think that it is because she knew that His Death was not the end. Remember, she had already lost Him once the Temple when He was but a boy of twelve years old (see Lk 2:41-51). And when she found Him...after three days...He asked her why she was looking for Him, as He was simply doing the work of His Father.
St. Luke tells us that Mary treasured these things in her heart (Lk 2:51)...and I believe that she recollected this when she lost Him again at the Crucifixion. She remembered that He was about His Father’s business...and so she didn’t go looking for Him in the tomb. In this way, Our Blessed Mother was the first disciple to believe in the Resurrection.
Now, let’s go back to Holy Saturday. It is probable that St. John and Mary spoke about the events that had transpired on Good Friday. And if Mary knew that Jesus’ death was not the end, she would have shared this with St. John. Imagine that! Not only was Mary the first disciple to believe the Resurrection...but she was also the first disciple to share its glorious message.

Now, I may be wrong...and maybe I’m seeing something that isn’t there...but I don’t so if you consider the significance that Our Lord continually bestows upon His Blessed Mother.
In fact, as the Catholic Church seeks to be more faithful in its witness and evangelisation, I think that this sort of message is timely. If the Church wishes to be successful in her evangelisation endeavours, she must seek the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.

Despite what modern-day marketing tells us, the success of the Church will not be determined by attractive programmes, or fancy-fangled ideas which seek to capture peoples’ attention in an attempt “entice” them into the Church. No! The surest way to lead people to the Lord Jesus Christ is through Mary.
Because Mary always...ALWAYS...points us to Jesus.

[On a parting note, I thought that I’d also share a favourite song of mine that ties in beautifully with the Gospel passage above.]

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Infallibility - what it is and what it isn't

An old school friend, who still attends the Baptist church that we attended as teenagers, recently asked me, as a Catholic, to explain Papal Infallibility. As part of his question, he linked the following article providing a not unusual apologetic against the Catholic Church’s teaching on this topic:
I responded in two parts to my friend – the first part explaining what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Papal Infallibility (which follows below); and the second part was my response to Moises Pinedo’s article, which you can view by clicking here.

Papal Infallibility is often misunderstood by Protestants. Many Protestants think that Papal Infallibility means that the Pope can’t sin (that’s not infallibility; that’s impeccability); others think that it means that the Pope cannot believe or teach heresy in any way, shape, or form. Both of these notions are incorrect.
To start with, it’s important to understand that the doctrine of Papal Infallibility doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Rather, it exists within the context of a broader understanding of the nature of the Church as the Body of Christ.

Christ entrusted His Church with the threefold office of teaching, governing, and sanctifying. In respect of the teaching office (or Magisterium), Christ who is the Truth, in His grace blessed the Church with a share in His infallibility. He did this to fulfil His promise that He would remain with and preserve His Church with the purity of faith handed down from by the Apostles. In this gift, we also see the goodness of God who gives us as Christians an objective guarantee of being able to profess the true faith without error.
So that this role of the Magisterium could be fulfilled, Christ has blessed the Church with the gift of infallibility when it definitively makes declarations regarding matters of faith and morals.

The key thing to understand here is that the Church’s infallibility is completely and utterly a gift of God’s grace.
There are a few ways in which this infallible teaching office, or Magisterium, can be exercised. One of them is when the Church gathers in an Ecumenical Council. The other is in reference to the Bishop of Rome, as the Successor of St. Peter (the Rock upon whom Christ built His Church and gave the keys of the kingdom) and the visible head (or representative) of Christ (who is the true Head of the Holy Catholic Church). The infallibility “enjoyed” by the Bishop of Rome (or the Pope) is limited only to statements that he makes “Ex Cathedra” or “from the Chair” (of St. Peter to be precise). In these statements, and these statements alone, is he guaranteed to be preserved by the Holy Spirit from teaching error.

There are certain conditions required for a Papal statement to be considered as “Ex Cathedra”, but without going into depth regarding these, suffice it to say that it MUST be clear to everybody that it is the intention of the Pope that he is making a definitive “Ex Cathedra” statement.
With this in mind, it is clear that the personal writings or opinions of any given Pope are not infallible. Pope Benedict XVI, in his first book on “Jesus of Nazareth”, admitted as much when he said that his book was “in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my [i.e. Josef Ratzinger’s] personal search for the face of the Lord”.

In this way, when Popes express their personal views on anything they are just as infallible as the next person. That’s not to say that he won’t get it right...but, it’s also not to say that he won’t get it wrong.
Whilst the Church doesn’t adhere to a doctrine of Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone), it does adhere to the doctrine of Sola Verbum Dei (the Word of God alone). Unlike Protestants, Catholics believe that the Word of God is not limited to Scripture, but Scripture certainly plays an extremely important role in the life of the Church. And since God is One, and there is only One Truth, it is impossible for any teaching of the Catholic Church to be contrary to Sacred Scripture. The reason Protestants don’t see this is because they interpret the Bible differently to Catholics. In addition, not only does Catholic doctrine not contradict Scripture, but based on the correct interpretation of Scripture (the same interpretation used by the Church since the time of the Apostles, through the Early Church Fathers, up until today) it can be shown that all Catholic doctrine has a basis in Scripture. In respect of the infallibility of the Church, consider the following texts:

  • Matt 16:17 – St. Peter’s profession of faith; which was revealed to Him by the Father – this is not unlike what the Catholic Church continues to teach regarding the Successor of Peter – that when he makes a definitive statement regarding faith, he is enlightened by God to do so.
  • Matt 28:18-20 – Jesus promised that He would remain with the Church until the end of the ages. And we would both agree that the Lord Jesus would have no union with heretics (e.g. Rev 2 & 3). If this is true, and Jesus Christ never left His Church, then the Church never fell into heresy (despite what the Protestant Reformers thought).
  • John 14:16, 25; 16:13 – Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to be with the Church FOREVER and guide the Church into ALL truth...the Protestant view which says the Catholic Church fell into heresy basically implies (whether it wants to or not) that Jesus lied on both these points.
  • Jn 11:49-51 – Ananias is granted the gift of true prophecy even though his intentions were not good. Interestingly, St. John ties this gift to his office as high priest.

Now, I suppose the claim can be made that Catholics are misinterpreting these (and other) passages of Scripture. So, how do we know what the Apostles meant when they penned the New Testament? Well, we go the witness of their disciples, the Church Fathers...and what do we see? The same thing i.e. that the interpretation followed by the Catholic Church today remains faithful to the tradition and interpretation handed down to the Fathers by the Apostles:
“For the Lord received anointing on His head in order that He might breathe incorruptibility on the Church. Do not be anointed with the evil odour of the teachings of the prince of this world...” – St. Ignatius, AD110

[Notice that the incorruptibility Christ breathed on His Church is in the context of, and in contrast to, the false teachings of the prince of this world.]
“But since it would be too long to enumerate the succession [from the Apostles] of all churches, we shall here point out the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient Church known to all, founded and organised at Rome by the two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul....For with this Church [i.e. with the Church of Rome], because of its superior origin, all Churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world; and it is in her [i.e. the Church of Rome] that the faithful everywhere have maintained the Apostolic tradition.” – St. Irenaeus, AD180

“Grant, then, that all have erred; that the Apostle was mistaken in bearing witness; that the Holy Spirit had no such consideration for any one Church as to lead it into truth, although He was sent for that purpose by Christ, who had asked the Father to make Him the Teacher of truth; that the Steward of God and Vicar of Christ neglected his office, and permitted the Churches for a time to understand otherwise and to believe otherwise than He Himself had preached through the Apostles: now, is it likely that so many and such great Churches should have gone astray into a unity of faith?” – Tertullian, AD200
“With a false bishop appointed for themselves by heretics, they dare even to set sail and carry letters from schismatics and blasphemers to the chair of Peter and to the principal Church [i.e. Rome], in which sacerdotal unity has its source; nor did they take thought that these are Romans, whose faith was praised by the preaching Apostle, and among whom it is not possible for perfidy to have entrance.” – St. Cyprian, AD252

In the understanding of the Church Fathers, the Church of Jesus Christ which had descended from the Apostles, by way of Apostolic Succession, was (and is) not able to fall into heresy. Not because the Church is so wonderful; but rather because of her infallible Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, who promised that He would be with His Bride throughout all the ages, protecting her and nourishing her. To deny the doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium of the Church is nothing less than to deny the gracious gift that Jesus Christ has given His Most Holy Bride.

Is the Pope "Infallible"? - a response to Moises Pinedo

An old school friend, who still attends the Baptist church that we attended as teenagers, recently asked me, as a Catholic, to explain Papal Infallibility. As part of his question, he linked the following article providing a not unusual apologetic against the Catholic Church’s teaching on this topic:
I responded in two parts to my friend – the first part explaining what the Catholic Church actually teaches about Papal Infallibility (see here); and the second part was my response to Moises Pinedo’s article, which I have included below.

Pinedo’s article is basically a misrepresentation of what the Catholic Church truly teaches. Sadly, this is a common flaw in anti-Catholic apologetics. I have nothing against people who make solid arguments against the Catholic faith; but more often than not the Church’s teachings are taken out of context and/or misrepresented…and the large majority of anti-Catholic Protestants unquestioningly and unwaveringly adopt these weak arguments against the Catholic Church and because of them will refuse to hear anything that tries to correct them.
Pinedo starts by given a statement from the First Dogmatic Constitution (Vatican I) stating that when the Pope speaks “Ex Cathedra” he possesses infallibility. That’s a great start…but that’s unfortunately where it ends for Pinedo. His whole article basically falls flat because he misunderstands and misrepresents what it means for the Pope to speak “Ex Cathedra”.

Pinedo says that “papal infallibility means that the pope makes, or should make, no mistakes in matters concerning the doctrine of the Catholic Church”. This is not what the First Dogmatic Constitution was saying. What it DID say was WHEN the Pope speaks “Ex Cathedra”...
In other words, Pinedo incorrectly equates EVERYTHING the Pope says with “Ex Cathedra” – but as I pointed out in the first part of my response to you, what Pinedo equates with “Ex Cathedra” is NOT what the Catholic Church understands as “Ex Cathedra”. 

Thus, the Pope’s own private opinions are NOT “Ex Cathedra” statements; and even if he puts pen to paper (e.g. in a book) this is still not “Ex Cathedra”. So, a Pope can make mistakes regarding doctrine. But what he cannot do…rather, what the Holy Spirit will preserve him from doing (“sola gratia”), is make a definitive declaration on faith or morals which is heretical. Like Cardinal Cajetan correctly said (as quoted by Pinedo), the Pope, as a private individual, is as fallible as any other person.
When Pinedo makes the accusation that this is all “very convenient, since Catholicism itself defines what is ‘official’”, he really isn’t being fair. The Church has already defined what is necessary for a statement to be “Ex Cathedra” – it’s not like the Church is retrospectively amending this definition to make it fit the mould depending on what definitive statements Pope’s might make. 

Pinedo says that “Innumerable ‘clarifications’ have been offered to calm Catholics” and to “satisfy the demands of infallibility”. This is far from true. Pinedo seems to think that because he is unnerved by Papal Infallibility (in his own misunderstanding of what it really is) Catholics, who actually understand what it REALLY is, must also be just as unnerved. On the contrary, Catholics are quite comfortable with the doctrine of Papal Infallibility and do not require to “be calmed” due to something any particular Pope may have said outside of the realms of “Ex Cathedra”. In fact, it should be remembered that instances of these infallible declarations by Popes are extremely rare; and there have been only TWO such declarations in the last 150 years i.e.:
1)      The Immaculate Conception (1854); and
2)      The Assumption of Mary (1950).

Be that as it may, Pinedo gives a few examples of what he deems to be contradictions in “infallible” statements made by various Popes and Councils of the Church. Even if we granted that the Papal statements were doctrinally incorrect, this wouldn’t necessarily pose a problem, given that they were not made “Ex Cathedra”. But this is irrelevant, because I think that when the statements are understood in context, the apparent contradictions disappear.
I will deal with these briefly and hopefully show that these are not actually contradictions, as Pinedo presumes.

1)      Pinedo says that the “recognition of the theory of evolution as more than a hypothesis” destroys the reality of Adam and that “humanity carries the sin of the first man”. But this is a straw-man argument. The theory of evolution can be reconciled with the historicity of Adam and Eve as our first parents. For example, God could have used the process of evolution to create Adam and Eve as the first human beings. The Bible doesn’t provide a scientific description of HOW God created Adam and Eve. So to acknowledge evolution, doesn’t necessarily mean a denial of Adam and Eve as the first parents of the entire human race.
2)      Pinedo sees Vatican II’s high esteem of Muslims as contradictory to what Vatican I had to say about “the abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion”.

In a similar vein, he regards that when Vatican II said that it rejects nothing that is true and holy in other religions (e.g. Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.) this was a contradiction of Vatican I which said that anyone who didn’t receive the Canonical Scriptures as declared by Trent was anathema.

What Pinedo is doing here is making an issue appear bigger than it is. Just because a certain religion doesn’t accept Christ, does not mean that there isn’t some good in that religion. For example, Buddhists seek harmony and peace with everyone and everything. That is an attribute to be commended. Muslims worship one God and seek to live lives of high morals. Another attribute to be commended. So, these things that are good in other religions should be acknowledged as good, and often we can learn from others in this way too.

The other thing to bear in mind here is context. When Vatican I speaks about the “abandonment and rejection of the Christian religion”, it needs to be remembered that these other faiths never accepted Christianity in the first place – so they can’t be said to have “abandoned” it.

And when Vatican I speaks about receiving as “sacred and canonical the complete books of Sacred Scripture will all their parts, as the holy Council of Trent listed them”, the context is more specifically addressed towards the Protestant Reformation where certain books, which have always been received as Sacred Scripture, were rejected. Which brings me to the next point…

3)      Pinedo thinks that Vatican II’s acceptance of Christians who do not adhere to Catholic doctrine is contradictory to Vatican I. But again, the statements provided from Vatican I (i.e. those regarding the Canon of Scripture and Petrine primacy) were made in the context of the Protestant Reformation. And in this regard, the Church recognises the principles of ignorance and culpability. In other words, Protestants today cannot be held responsible for what happened in the revolt which brought schism and division to the Body of Christ in the Protestant Reformation. In fact, many Protestants are so badly misinformed about what the Catholic Church really teaches, that if they knew the truth of it, many of them would return to the fold. But the same cannot be said for the Protestants who were responsible for the Reformation – they knew better what they were rejecting, and for the Church rightly condemns them for the division that they have caused.
Pinedo concludes his article by claim that “the doctrine of papal infallibility has caused, and continues to cause, many people to accept false doctrines”, a few examples which he goes on to list.

His claim is that these “false doctrines” are unbiblical. But this isn’t true because a biblical basis can be made for each of those listed:
a)      Assumption of Mary (e.g. Rev 12:1ff)

b)      Canonisation of Saints (e.g. Heb 11 & Heb 12:1ff)

c)      Evolution – Gen 1 and Gen 2 contain certain discrepancies which can lean towards showing that Gen 1 is not necessarily an actual “blow-by-blow” literal and scientific account of the Creation. Interestingly, on this point, he exaggerates what Pope John Paul II said about evolution, and now claims that the Church teaches the “factuality” of evolution. Actually, the Church doesn’t have an official stance on evolution. Catholics are free to agree or disagree with the theory of evolution. The thing that we are required to believe is that God created all things from nothing. It is not the HOW that matters; it is the fact that He is the Author of Creation.
If you have read Pinedo's article, you may notice that there was one supposed “false doctrine” listed by Pinedo that I haven’t listed above, and for a good reason. He claims that people who follow the Bible alone will reject the false doctrine of original sin. Now, if Pinedo is correct, this immediately poses a problem for many Protestants who adhere to Sola Scriptura as well as the doctrine of original sin.

What this highlights is that the doctrine of Sola Scriptura is far more susceptible to giving rise to heresies than the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. This is because Sola Scriptura is a self-defeating principle which leaves the interpretation of Scripture open to the private individual. All of the Ancient heresies that the Church has condemned throughout the ages (and which many Protestants continue to condemn themselves) sprung up because someone decided to interpret the Bible in a way that runs contradictory to the way it had been received, and every single one of those heretics  used Scripture to back up their claims. Even in situations which don’t end up in full-blown heresy, the history of Protestant denominationalism is proof of what happens when the Reformers’ principle of “private interpretation” meets “Sola Scriptura”.
Furthermore, it needs to be pointed out that principle of Sola Scriptura is actually never taught in the Bible itself. And even if it was, it would be nothing more than a circular argument i.e.

I only believe what the Bible says because the Bible is true. How do I know the Bible is true? Because it says it is.
Beyond this circular argument is also the fact that the Bible never stands alone…it always stands upon someone’s interpretation of it. So, Sola Scriptura really is the wrong “catch-phrase”. It would be more correct to claim “Sola Mea” or “The Bible alone as I interpret it”.

As a far more reasonable alternative to Sola Scriptura is what St. Paul taught when he reminded St. Timothy that it is the Church (not the Bible) which is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). Not only does this make logical sense, but it also makes sense of the historical fact that the Church preceded the Bible i.e. the Church was preaching the Gospel and teaching doctrine long before the New Testament was even written. The Church gave us the Bible, and not vice versa. If the Bible is the Church’s book, then it is the Church’s privilege and responsibility to teach us how best to interpret it. And thanks be to God, when the Church does so in exercising her teaching office (Magisterium), the Holy Spirit guides her so that Christians can be assured that what the Church teaches is true.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why I Became Catholic

I have been Catholic for three years now, having been received into the Church in the Easter Vigil of 2010. My journey home to the Holy Catholic Church was more theological than it was emotional. That’s not to say that there was no emotion involved – there certainly was. But the main catalyst that the Lord used to bring me home was theology.

For some time now, a few people have asked me to post my conversion story on my blog page, but because of the depth of theological controversy that I encountered along the way, I have up until now shyed away from it.

But, towards the end of last year I finally gave in and decided that I was going to put pen to paper and to put together something of a “testimony” of my conversion from Protestantism to the Catholic Church.

Well, I spent about three weeks just working on the draft……….which was 15 pages long……….in short-hand……….and that wasn’t even delving into all the reasons for my theological shifts. Then I started typing……….and I found that 2 pages of my short-hand notes equated to about 5 pages of type……..

Needless to say, I started rethinking whether I actually wanted to finish the work of my conversion story, which for most people would probably just end up being long, dry, and boring. But, that’s when I found something that I had completely forgotten about.

When I first started taking the steps of being received into the Catholic Church, a few of my non-Catholic Christian friends were shocked, and one or two of them actually took the time to e-mail me and ask me about my reasons. My response to them back then was short and succinct, so I thought what better way to share the story of my conversion that to let the three-year-ago version of myself tell the story…so, here goes….

We most certainly expected lots of eyebrows to raise at our move [to the Catholic Church], but I can assure you that we were not looking forward to it. In fact, it was one of the things that made us a bit apprehensive about becoming Catholic...we expected that most of our non-Catholic Christian brothers and sisters would end up writing us off as apostates. There is little more one could expect given the massive misconceptions amongst Protestants as to what Catholics believe. Anyway, our hearts were finally settled when the local parish priest reminded us that when we stand before God in judgment, His concern is not going to be others - we must give our own account for our own selves. What also helped was that as we delved more and more into Catholic teaching we saw more and more of Christ, and we fell more and more in love with the Church that he founded 2,000 years ago and through the Traditions handed down from the Apostles continues to stand the test of time. There is no other institution on earth that could go through what the Catholic Church has been through and still be going strong today...unless it was guarded and protected by God Almighty.
There is no one particular reason why my wife and I became Catholic. Rather there are so many of them that we could go on forever. So, rather than being cumbersome with all the details, I have tried to highlight to the best of my ability some of the more pertinent things that influenced us. As I look back and reflect, I can clearly see how the Lord has led us to the Catholic Church even though we were completely oblivious to His plan all along.
The seeds for our conversion were probably planted way back when we were part of a dispensational independent Baptist church in South Africa. The pastor, who is still the “chief elder” there, is an excellent Bible teacher. I will always remember the most important things that he has always stressed in his ministry:
  • never take anything for granted – always study the Scriptures
  • love the Lord Jesus with everything that you are - this means that obedience to Christ will often take us where we would never dream of going 
  • love the Church because this is what Christ loves and died for

When we were still in our dating years, my now-wife and I left South Africa and moved to New Zealand…and when we left, we were far from being obedient Christians. But we weren't in New Zealand for long before God brought us back to Himself. We got involved in a local dispensational independent Baptist church and everything was going along just fine. I was appointed as a deacon in the church, and I was working closely with the pastor with the intention of training for the pastorate. That was until an old friend from the Baptist church in South Africa told us that their church had gone through a major eschatalogical shift based on a verse-by-verse exposition of Matthew 24. Well, I studied and studied and studied Matthew 24 and ended up coming to the same conclusions as them. This was a massive problem in our Baptist church in New Zealand, because the pastor (and his Mission Board) was committed whole-heartedly to dispensationalism. To cut a long story short, we were basically forced out of the church...and so started our journey to find the fullness of truth.
As horrible as the experience of being forced out of a congregation that we loved was, it was a good opportunity for us to really challenge a lot of things that we had taken for granted. As I studied, I was becoming more and more influenced by Reformed thinking - which led us to start fellowshipping with Reformed Baptists. But, as I got deeper into Reformed theology, a lot of my previous theology started to unravel.
I became convinced that baptism by immersion was not the Scriptural mode of baptism, but rather baptism by sprinkling. However, I still maintained that one should only be baptised after making a profession of faith. So, you could say that I was a sort of Anabaptist of the Reformation...believer's baptism by sprinkling. Be that as it was, I respected the authority of the local Reformed Baptist church and wasn't going to make it an issue of fellowship. That was until our understanding of the covenant became more focused.
As I began to understand the idea of covenant, I saw that “believers' only” baptism wasn't biblical either. Rather, the very essence of covenant necessitates that our children are included, and so I became fully Reformed i.e. I now held to the teaching of the Reformers (like Calvin and Luther) that infant baptism was Scriptural. This was opposed to my thinking of so many years that the Reformers maintained infant baptism simply because they couldn't let go of that old Romanistic teaching (oh, how ironic when I look back now). Again, it wasn't an issue of fellowship until it became an issue of obedience i.e. we only left the Reformed Baptist church when our first daughter was born so that we could (in obedience to Christ) have her baptised as a full member of God's covenant.
Being fully Reformed, I delved more and more into Reformed theology, with particular focus on the spearhead of the Reformation i.e. Sola ScripturaIn addition, John Calvin became a big focus because, of all the Reformers, I believed he had the best grasp on the issues. Of particular significance to me was the Reformed teaching on worship - particularly the Regulative Principle i.e. that God should only be worshipped as commanded in the Scriptures; anything not commanded in the Scriptures was forbidden. As the Regulative Principle, firmly based on Sola Scriptura, began to take hold in my thinking I started to see that Reformed Christians incorporated things into their worship that weren't commanded; and not only that, but they even disagreed amongst themselves about the interpretation of the Regulative Principle. Mostly, I think that this was due to most Reformed Christians not understanding their own principles of the elements of worship and the circumstances of worship. According to traditional and conservative Reformed scholars things like what is sung and accompaniment were elements of worship and should find commandment in the Scriptures before being done. After intense study, I was convinced that singing hymns, choruses, etc. in corporate worship was not in accordance with the Regulative Principle - only the Psalms were to be sung (the strongest argument for this position coming from Col 3:16 & Eph 5:19). I also became a strong proponent for a weekly celebration of the Lord's Supper and ultimately agreed with the teaching that children (as full members of the covenant) should also partake. I had solid biblical arguments for my convictions, and I brought these up with pastors from time to time. After all, the cry of the Reformed is supposed to be "reformed and always reforming".
It was frustrating (and also interesting in hindsight) because the responses I received were hardly biblical. In fact, one Reformed pastor made the comment to me that the Regulative Principle is simply a "wax-nose" that can be moulded any which way that you desired. The objections raised to my points ultimately ranged from what was practical - to a different flavour of Reformed tradition (e.g. Puritan vs. Continental). And this was from men who were thoroughly committed to the Sola Scriptura and Reformed teaching.

To my biblical arguments I began to add the argument of Reformed Tradition (particularly Calvin) and when it suited me, the Early Church Fathers. After all, they were much closer to the Apostles, and where they agreed with Scripture, we could validly use them as support. What I failed to realise was that my interpretation of the Scriptures was different from the Fathers…but what I did realise (and it became more and more frustrating) was that every Christian interprets the Scriptures differently. 

After many theological discussions on the Regulative Principle and the numerous interpretations held by so many different Reformed Christians and denominations, I became completely disillusioned with it. After all, how regulative can a principle be when it is always relative? And so I discarded the Regulative Principle because it truly is a wax nose.
By God's providence, at around the same time I had been in contact with a Reformed Episcopilian priest. In my discussions with him, he helped me to see the value of tradition in the history of the Church (but specifically in the Anglican way of only wanting to accept the first 5 centuries).
He also helped me to see the importance of the succession of authority in the Church. He showed me that towards the end of his ministry, John Calvin regretted the way that he had tampered with church government, and how he hoped to restore an episcopal order in the church so that the various churches in Europe that had arisen due to the "free thinking" of the Reformation could be united. Calvin actually approached the Church of England in an attempt to have ordinations in Europe recognised so that there could be a valid line of succession from the Apostles. But his letters were intercepted by certain English bishops who were supporters of the Catholic Church and they [Calvin’s letters] never found their way to their intended destination.
Up until this point, I understood that a valid church could not be started unless someone had authority to start that church by those in authority e.g. I couldn't simply start my own church because I couldn't find a church that agreed with me. I would only be able to start a church if I had been validly sent by a church ministry which had the authority to send. But I never worked this understanding to its logical conclusion i.e. where did John Calvin get his authority from? All Protestant pastors (perhaps with the exception of some Anglicans, depending on who you are talking to) can only trace their authority back as far as someone who somewhere along the line assumed authority for himself. That's when I realised that the Reformers had no right whatsoever to leave the Church of Jesus Christ and assume their own authority in setting up churches according to their own whims. Unfortunately, that is what happened. And every single Christian denomination that has set itself up since then has at some point adoted a self-appointed authority. What's more, almost every single Protestant denomination claims to base their system of beliefs on Sola Scriptura. However, what I came to realise is that "Sola Scriptura" really means "Sola Scriptura as I interpret it". So, the Sola Scriptura is nothing more than My Interpretation Alone (or my pastor's interpretation for that matter). In this way, Sola Scriptura is also a wax nose.
What is really interesting is that the Scriptures never actually teach Sola Scriptura. Nor do they teach that the Scriptures are for private individuals to interpret. Yet, private interpretation since the Reformation has led to the formation of over 35,000 denominations. I doubt whether this was Christ's intention in His High Priestly prayer when He prayed that the Church would be one. 

That's when I really started to dig into the early Church. How could we as Protestants, almost 2,000 years removed from the facts, determine what Christ and His Apostles meant when they lived. The Church Fathers, much closer to the Apostles, and some of them even personal disciples of the Apostles, began to hold much more weight in how I should read and understand the Scriptures.

The Anglican priest I mentioned also helped me to be far more gracious towards Catholics. He showed me that we can call them brothers and sisters in Christ even though we disagreed with a lot of their teachings. He pointed out that a lot of what we thought Catholics believed were misconceptions and required a bit more of an understanding of things from their perspective. Well, that was okay and I was happy to accept it. I accepted Catholics as potential brothers and sisters in Christ, but it would snow in the Sahara before I would dream of becoming one. And at that point I had no real interest in finding out more about the Catholic faith. Instead, we became Anglicans because it meant that could stay reformed (rather than Reformed) and adopt a form of catholicity (in the Anglican sense of the word). It was kind of a middle ground that maintained that the Catholic Church was still in serious error.

Being Anglican in NZ was interesting. There were things that we didn't agree with (e.g. ordination of women) but we felt that the spirit of Christ compelled us to be gracious and humble, leading by example and prayer for change. But it wasn't long before we saw that this approach simply wouldn't work in the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion worldwide is under huge attack from liberals who want to have the worldwide Communion adopt ordination of homosexuals. In some Provinces it is already accepted...and in others it is seriously rejected. I personally think that this will ultimately lead to a split in the Anglican Communion. What was a real eye-opener for us was how powerless the Archbishop of Canterbury was/is in this whole fiasco. Scripture and the historic traditions are completely against homosexuality, and yet the Anglican Church which claims to hold to the Scriptures, and some of historical tradition (in varying degrees depending on which Anglican you speak to), is powerless to do anything about these liberal Anglicans who threatened to destroy the Anglican Church. I started to appreciate the idea of having an authoritative figure like the Pope but I still wouldn't have dreamed of calling him my authoritative figure. However, it did start to perk my interest a little more.... 

Oneday, I was reading the newspaper and I stumbled across an advert for the Catholic Enquiry Centre in NZ - inviting people to obtain some free material to tell them more about Christianity in general and the Catholic faith in particular. Well, I was now interested enough to find out exactly what it was that Catholics believed. The reading material arrived and I just couldn't put it down. I was awestruck at how Christ-centred Catholic teaching was, and I couldn't believe how much of Catholic teaching was pretty much in line with some of my own thinking. The difference was that there seemed to be something in Catholic teaching that I was missing all along...something vital, but I just couldn't put my finger on it. Well, this has to be a smoke-screen I thought. It can't be true - it's a decoy to entice unsuspecting and naive Christians into the Catholic Church. So, I started reading more...I started listening to more Catholic teachers. Well, it wasn't long and the holes started appearing on the wrong side of the argument. All the holes were in the Protestant position. The Catholic position was SOLID. The Protestant position became shakier and shakier and eventually crumbled like a house of cards. Somewhere along that line I finally realised that Protestantism was built on a foundation of sand; and I found that it was the Catholic Church that was built upon the foundation of rock. The final straw that broke the camel's back was finally being shown that the Scriptures are not the pillar and foundation of the truth - simply because the Scriptures are subject to a multitude of interpretations. Instead, St. Paul clearly taught St. Timothy that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). And that Church that Paul was referring to is the same Church that remains undefeated to this day under the oversight of the Pope as the successor of St. Peter, the rock upon whom our Lord built His Church. And most assuredly, the gates of hell have never prevailed against it.

From that point I started reading Catholic theology from a perspective of faith rather than criticism. All my doubts finally melted away...the Lord truly helped my unbelief. I started looking more deeply into the Church Fathers and started studying history from a Catholic perspective. WOW! I have never felt more blessed. I started praying the Rosary because I now saw it for what it really was....a prayerful walk with Mary, our Lord's closest disciple; a beautiful prayer for meditating deeply on the person and work of our Lord Jesus. 

God had led me to the treasury of truth openly displayed in the Catholic Church - the last place on earth I would ever have dreamed of finding it. The Catholic Church really is a family/household. We have God as our Father; Christ is our elder brother; Mary is our Mother; and all the saints are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Like the prodigal son, God has brought us home, and we cannot praise and thank Him enough for this great gift that He has given us. I only wish that I could describe in words the change that has happened in our lives because of this journey home. All I can say is that if you are on that path searching for the truth, then don’t stop looking until you find it. 

With my hand on my heart, I would encourage you to find out more about the Catholic faith, but find out from a faithful Catholic. Unfortunately, Protestants do not understand Catholicism. For example, most Protestants think that Catholics worship Mary and pray to her like they pray to God. This is not true. Catholics don't pray to Mary (at least not in the sense that Protestants think). We ask Mary, as our Mother (Jn 19:26) and the Mother of our Lord (Lk 1:43) to pray for us. Our prayers to God are on a completely different level (similar to how your discussions with friends are on a totally different level to your discussions with your spouse, which are again totally different to your discussions with God). The same is true of the saints. We ask Mary and the saints to assist us in our prayers because we believe that the Church of Jesus Christ is One. If we can ask our brothers and sisters on earth to pray for us, surely we can also ask our brothers and sisters in heaven to pray for us, especially since their prayer in the glorified state is far more perfect than ours on earth can ever be.

Another misconception is that Catholics hate the Scriptures and the Catholic Church tries to hide them from the faithful. This couldn't be further from the truth. After all, if it weren't for the Catholic Church, Protestants would not have the Scriptures. The Catholic Church was God's agent, as the pillar and ground of truth, to firstly determine the New Testament Canon, and then to faithfully preserve the Scriptures throughout history. Catholics love the Scriptures far more than any Protestant could imagine. In a single Mass liturgy, there are more Scripture readings and allusions than a month of Sundays' services in most Protestant churches (apart from Anglican churches of course because Anglicans follow a liturgy very similar to the Catholics). Interestingly, the focus in most Protestant churches is the pulpit. This might give the impression that the Scriptures are central...but what it really tells is that the preacher is central along with his interpretation of the Scripture he is preaching on. [[[It's funny (not in the ha-ha kind of way) because it just goes to show that every Christian has his own pope - whether it is himself, or his pastor, or his favourite theologian]]]. There is far more preaching in Protestant churches than there is Scripture reading. However, in a Catholic Mass the first half of the service is dedicated to the Word; the second half to the Sacrament. The first half is dedicated to various Scripture readings: Old Testament and New. As a lover of the Bible, I was astounded when I first realised that the liturgy of the Word in a Catholic Mass is so Scripturally focused. But more than the Scriptures, or the sermon / homily, the supreme focus of the Mass is Jesus Christ Himself…present the in the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. In the Catholic Church, it is not a pulpit that is central; it is the altar i.e. the place where the once-for-all Sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ is made present for us today. And so, Jesus and His Communion of Himself completely with us is the whole focus of the Mass - not the priest; not the homily; not the beautiful decor - it is Christ that we all lift our eyes to behold when bread and wine are miraculously changed by God Himself into the life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ...for us.

The amazing thing for me is that I am still a babe; I have only understood and seen the tip of the iceberg (if indeed that much). If this is the beginning, I can't wait to see the depth and majesty of the treasures that God has in store. O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehesible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways!

I hope that I haven't been too long-winded...but I am glad that I have had the opportunity of sharing the most important points of our journey to the Catholic Church.