Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Here’s Mud in Your Eye

Over the past couple of months my parish has been hosting a series of Eucharistic adoration holy hours, led by our seminarian summer intern. One of the holy hours was on “Marriage and Family Life”. As usual, my mind had been wandering during prayer until a guest speaker reminded me on the night’s theme. I spent come time praying for renewal of marriage and family life in the parish. Before long I was mentally wool-gathering again! Then a thought came to me.

I have been praying that God would use me to serve his Church in some way. I remembered that in one of the RCIA classes I taught, we looked at John 9. Here Jesus heals a man born blind. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and spreads it over the blind man’s eyes, telling him to wash it off in the pool of Siloam. When the man does this, he can see again.

What I felt the Jesus telling me was “If I can use dirt and spit to heal a blind man, I can use you! You feel like dirt sometimes, don’t you? Good! I can use dirt. I may have to spit on it, but I can use it!” This had the strange effect of comforting me. Yes. If God can use dirt, he can use me.

I once heard a speaker comment that he thought it was foolish for churches and shrines to be built in the Holy Land on places where Jesus had been or performed miracles. He said that Jesus had once spit on the ground to make mud to heal a blind man. “Why not have a Church of the Holy Spittle?”

Why not indeed? He missed the point. God spits on dirt and heals a man. God can use dirt; that should be remembered!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone?

One of the best ways to get to know someone is to ask questions. You might ask them about were they're from or what they do for a living. You might ask their opinion or for their help. Listening to their answers will teach you more than just the facts they give. The way they answer will often reveal more than what they say. Our questions reveal us as well. Do we ask with interest or boredom? Are we inviting or challenging?

If you've been in any bookstore recently, you've probably noticed many books that question the Church and the Scriptures, even books that question the existence of God, with titles like "The Lost Gospels", "Misquoting Scripture", and "The God Delusion". Two favorite targets of these books are the Bible and the Catholic Church. One tactic is to claim that the books we have in the Bible are full of error or that books that the author thinks should have been included were denied a place in the Scriptures and that this was done deliberately by the Church. If the Church and the Scriptures can be successfully challenged, their authority can be called into question.

It seems only fair that if people want to question the Church and the Bible, the Church through the Bible ought to be able to question them! Not surprisingly there are several questions the Bible asks us. Are you willing to answer them?

Who Can Forgive Sins But God Alone?

The Gospel of St. Mark (Mk 2:1-12) tells us of a paralyzed man who was brought to Jesus for healing by four of his friends. In fact, they did some home remodeling so they could reach where Jesus was! Seeing this display of their faith, his response to the paralyzed man was “Your sins are forgiven.” (Mk 2:5)

This upset the religious leaders who were there. They accused Jesus of blasphemy! He had told the paralyzed man that his sins were forgiven. Their challenge was “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7)

Like many today, they asked the right question but had the wrong answer! They thought that Jesus was blaspheming by telling the man that his sins were forgiven. “Who is this man to speak like this?” they asked. (Mk 2:7) If Jesus was only a man, they were right to accuse him; but what if he was also God?

Jesus knew better than to get into a theological arguement with these Scribes. So he asks them “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic ‘your sins are forgiven’ or to say ‘Rise, take up you pallet and walk?’” (Mk 2:9) I am sure he paused to let his question sink in. The Scribes must have thought “’s easier to say ‘your sins are forgiven’. The man wouldn’t look any different. But if he was told to walk and didn’t, then…Wait, what’s Jesus saying now?”

Jesus wanted them to understand clearly what he was about to do. Of course he was going to heal the paralyzed man. But Jesus wanted them all, the Scribes, the crowd and most of all the paralyzed man to realize what the healing would mean. It wasn’t only a physical healing; it was a sign of who Jesus was. He healed the man so that they would “know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the man “Rise, take up your pallet and go home.” (Mk 2:10-11). When the man got up, picked up his pallet and “went out before them all” he did so forgiven of his sins!

The Scribes were right to ask “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” But Jesus claim to do so was not blasphemy. He forgave the man’s sins and healed his paralysis. If Jesus had only healed his paralysis, the man would have still been paralyzed by his sin, unable to approach God freely. If Jesus had only forgiven his sins, there would be no visible sign that his life had been changed. Jesus healed the man’s body so that everyone would know that he also had forgiven the man’s sins by his own authority. It was a sign to them, and to us, that he was God.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jesus and Sola Scriptura

“Sola scriptura!” has long been a rallying cry of churches whose history begins with the Reformation. The Bible alone is their authority for what they believe. To them, the Catholic Church adds to the Bible by its use of Tradition, the teaching of the apostles that was written in scripture and their oral teaching that was passed on by the Church (2 Thess. 2:15), later including the teaching of the Church after the time of the Apostles. Catholic apologists point out that the very decision as to which writings make up the Bible that Protestants appeal to as their only authority is one of those Traditions of the Catholic Church!

I find two incidents in the Gospels shed light on Jesus view of the scriptures and authority. The first is in Mark 12:18-27 (also Matthew 22:23-33). The Sadducees issue their challenge against the resurrection of the dead by recounting a story of a woman who was married to seven brothers according to levirate marriage laws. The Sadducees want to know which of the seven she will be married to in heaven since she had been married to all seven in succession on earth! (BTW, this story bears a striking resemblance to Tobit 3:7-9, a book Protestants do not consider canonical, but which Catholics do. So which scriptura is sola?).

Jesus reply is that when they rise from the dead, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels in heaven. She will be married to none of the seven or to anyone else! But more than that, he tells them that they are mistaken because they do not know the scriptures or the power of God, the very things they were sure they knew! They had forgotten the scripture where God had said “I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6). And they had forgotten the power of God, for if he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then they are alive because God is not the God of the dead but of the living! As Jesus tells them, “You are greatly misled.”

The Sadducees argued from a scripture they didn’t believe. The scriptures alone were not enough; they had them and they were wrong about the resurrection of the dead because they also needed to understand the power of God.

The other incident is found in John’s Gospel. In chapter 5, Jesus heals a lame man by the pool of Bethesda. The Pharisees are angry with Jesus because he has healed on the Sabbath. When Jesus responds by telling them “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work” they become incensed! They understand that by saying that Jesus is making himself equal to God (a claim so many today deny!) So, naturally, they want to kill him (v 18).

Jesus tells them that the work he does testifies that he comes from the Father and that the Father himself has testified on Jesus behalf. But they do not believe. “You search the scriptures because you think that you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life.”

The Pharisees were right to search the scriptures to find eternal life. Jesus does not rebuke them for this. But the scriptures alone will not give them, or us, eternal life, only Jesus can. But they would not come to Jesus. They thought they had eternal life through the scriptures. But they missed the testimony of the scriptures about Jesus, so they would not come to him to have life.

In both instances, people relied on their understanding of scripture alone and were mistaken. What they missed each time was the God of the scriptures. Words on a page can only give you the letter of what you need to have eternal life. It is the Spirit of God whose power gives that life. It is that same Spirit that Jesus said would lead us to all truth (John 16:12-15). He has given the Spirit to the Church and the Church has given us the scriptures. We need both; the scriptures and the Spirit-led Church that gave us the scriptures as part of her Tradition—the Catholic Church.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Isn't That a Bit Harsh?

I was in a Catholic bookstore the other day when I overheard a conversation between a customer and a sales associate. In discussing a various authors of devotional booklets, the bookseller compared one to Thomas Merton. "Oh, no. I don't like him as much," the customer said, "he can be harsh. It might be alright for someone living as a monk, but regular Catholics have lesser standards to live by." (I don't think the bookseller agreed with that assessment.)

Hearing this I had to wonder what the customer would make of some of Jesus' statements in the Gospels! "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword." (Mt 10:34) or "I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Lk 12:49). There are many other such words of Jesus. Aren't they a bit harsh?

And what, I wonder, are these lesser standards? A little sin is OK? A smidge of adultery? A bit of lying? A pinch of stealing?

Apparently books aren't the only things to watch out for in Catholic bookstores! Hmm, I hope that's no too harsh...