Friday, July 31, 2009

Faith, Works and Saints/Crazy People

I read a blog post the other day, and I don't know how I feel about it.  I can't seem to let it go, and I don't know why.  It bothers me, but I don't think it should bother me that much.  Writing a whole post about it here seems like overkill, but maybe it will let me put it to rest in my own mind.  

One of the biggest problems, in my mind, is that it is a satirical piece written about the saints by someone that (as far as I can tell) is not from a faith tradition that honors saints.  Satire is one thing when you are pointing out places that your own belief have gone too far, but it's a little different animal when it's directed at someone else.  On the other hand, I recognize that I'm a little touchy about the subject (seriously, why else would I not be able to let it go?), and I really don't think that the author had any intention of implying anything about any particular belief system, but only that those particular examples were pretty over the top.

Maybe it would help to explain a little bit about my own background when it comes to saints.  Growing up, every night we would read a Bible story and a short story about a saint.  I grew up admiring the saints and their dedication to God, but they also seemed to be on  a whole different plane than someone normal like me.  It was clear that they were human, and that what they did, they did by the grace of God, but they seemed to be on an entirely different plane of existence when it came to holiness.  I frankly didn't particularly aspire to some of what they did.  The very short stories were later replaced by entire books about the saints, and it helped to see their lives in a little more depth.  However, from about high school on, I didn't continue to read much about the saints, and "communion of saints" didn't mean anything to me beyond being a phrase in the Creed.

It has only been in the last few years that I have begun to read more of the writings of the saints.  Not books written about them by overzealous hagiographers that gloss over flaws like editors airbrush models in magazines.  These are more like seeing the saints and their walk with God in a mirror; they usually don't try to hide anything.

Guess what.

The saints are human.  They have flaws.  They sin.  They struggle.  Yet they also have an overpowering love for God and a willingness to do anything to draw closer to Him.  Because of the depth of their relationship with God, their meditations about Scripture have intensity, clarity and simplicity.  Their accounts of their journeys to holiness are borne out of a desire to become fully one with God.

One of the problems that I have with an evangelical Christian writing about the saints is that they usually come from a background that emphasizes that we are saved by faith alone, and that works are utterly useless.  Therefore, penance and mortification of the body are something that is foreign and out of place to the Evangelical.  The satire directed towards those aspects of the saints is what bothered me the most.  Those were the points that when people in the comments were laughing at the saints, it hurt.

Remember that Catholics, on the other hand, believe that works are a necessary part of our salvation. Let's be very clear: works DO NOT save us.  Only Jesus saves us.  Only the grace of His death on the cross gets us into heaven.  However, works do play an important role.  Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).  The saints, like James in v. 18, say with their lives: "I by my works will show you my faith." Of course, going through the motions without faith is just as worthless.  Faith must be the driving force of the works.  Any works should be a natural outpouring of that faith, and not done as a crazy stunt.  It bears repeating: both faith and works are made possible by Christ's grace alone.

I am no longer afraid that my good works will not measure up.  In fact, I know that they will not.  I find that the only time I manage to do anything that might be considered "good" is when I finally completely give up trying and simply let Christ work in me. Learning that abandonment to God came in large part through reading the writings of the saints, who had learned it before me.


That's really the end of the post, but as an addendum, let's talk a minute about the specific examples brought up in the post.

St. Bertilia: Actually, she was far from the only saint to be married and a virgin.  Virginity is not saintly because sex is bad.  Sex is very good, otherwise it wouldn't be a sacrifice to remain a virgin.  However, many saints gave up sex.  Some as married couples (I've never heard of this saint before, but I have heard of this practice with other saints) and some as priests or nuns.  Not having sex is not just about denying yourself, it's also about setting yourself apart for God alone.  (Side note: I don't feel called to that kind of marriage myself!)

St. Catherine of Siena: This one probably bothered me more than any of the others combined.  We live in a society that is baffled by the idea of giving up chocolate or TV for 40 days during Lent.  Greater discipline than that is completely mind blowing.  I do not think that people in general should follow this particular discipline, but I have a real problem with anyone besides a confessor/spiritual director deciding when too much is too much.  Several of the saints were sustained by the Eucharist alone for years at a time.

St. Lucy: Not going to lie.  I don't really want to touch this one.  Personally, I think that this was over the top, and the idea of sending the eyes to your admirer is flat out creepy. Again, young virgins were extreme.  Today, we can do about whatever we want.  At Lucy's time, you really had to fight to live out a call to virginity.  I still can't fully endorse it, though.

St. Wilgefortis: I have never in my life heard of this saint or this story.  However, it's not nearly as crazy as it sounds. Worded in this way, it sounds like she sprouted a well groomed beard and mustache.  Actually, she probably developed some kind of medical condition.  Hirsutism is when a female begins to grow hair in places that usually only males grow hair (face, chest and back).  It is a symptom of several diseases, including polycystic ovary syndrome, Cushing's, diabetes, or cancer of the ovary or adrenal gland.  Given medical treatment at the time, even if her father hadn't killed her, she was going to die fairly soon.

St. Mary of Egypt: Again, haven't heard of this one.  Since I have no facts, I'm going to leave it alone.

St. Theresa of Avila:  Ooh, this is another one that you just don't mess with.  Especially if you don't know the whole story.  Theresa entered the convent when she was young, but the convent at the time was a pretty cushy place.  They lived very comfortably and didn't really have much discipline at all.  She continued to have a fair number of possessions at the time. She was living at a time when folks were turning to religious life for the comfort of living rather than for a great desire to follow God, and she wanted to reform that within her own order.  She did not demand that everyone go without shoes, only those in her order.

Finally, St. Nicholas of Tolentino:  I don't know anything about this saint either, but it just sounds like some of those crazy legends that grow up around saints.  Without any research whatsoever, my position is that I don't believe it happened.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Well Played, My Friends. Well Played.

Yesterday was my birthday.  I know birthdays don't mean much to some people, but I have to be honest: I like mine.  I'm a fan of being alive. 

I don't necessarily do big birthday plans.  I took the day off.  I like my birthday and I like days off, so it's always a great combo.  Mass was great.  Monsignor talked about Martha's faith and trust when Lazarus died, and those are some of my favorite topics right now. Then I was hanging out with my family.  Dinner, a movie, ice cream and several bookstores.  Good stuff.

That would have been enough, but I also was meeting a good friend for dinner.  Let's talk about that for a minute.  A week ago, she asked me if I wanted to go to dinner for my birthday.  She actually sent me a voicemail, and when I didn't respond right away (because I was working, and I'm rude like that when I'm at work) she sent me a text.  Other stuff came up, and I forgot to answer it, but I figured it was fine because I would see her later.  I finally tell her I'd love to go to dinner, and she immediately starts hounding me about where we should eat.  I'm wondering why it needs to be decided so soon, but didn't really think about it.  I also wasn't very forthcoming with any ideas.  I didn't care where we ate, I was just glad we were getting together.

Then let's talk about when I pulled up to the little restaurant.  I had never eaten there, but figured it must be pretty good, because there were a lot of cars there for a Wednesday night.  It took me a little bit to find a parking spot.  I noticed a Rav, because I have a different friend that drives one of those, but I didn't think too much of it, because there are a lot of those around here.

My friend texted me to ask where I was, so I called to tell her I was on my way in... and heard small children in the background.  It sounded like a third friend's 2 year old, so that was a little weird, but I didn't think too much about it again, because I just figured it was a full restaurant and there were probably some families there.

Okay, now let's talk about another car that was there that was familiar.  I'm not going to lie.  That time I thought maybe some other friends were around and dropped by, too.  That's not uncommon.  BUT I STILL DIDN'T GET IT.  I'm so clueless.  I walked in to not 1 or 2, but about 20 friends waiting for dinner!  

I have planned my share of surprises, but I don't think anyone's ever planned one for me.  If they have, I don't remember being particularly surprised, because it seems like there are always a few hints.  I honestly had no idea.  It was so much fun! 

At least, for me it was.  I have to be the world's worst person to surprise, because my reaction to surprises and loud noises is to get quieter, not to scream or jump up and down or anything like that.  Good thing no one was taping it, because I don't think AFV would be very interested in my statue impression (even though I thought the slight deer-in-the-headlights expression was a good angle.  Too overdone, you think?)

Well played, friends.  Thank you!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trust and Patience

I thought this was interesting.  I was talking to priest for some spiritual direction and mentioned that I was having trouble being patient with God, that I didn't like to wait.  He took my impatience and turned me back to the trust issue (without my mentioning my recent struggles with that).  He told me that there was a paraphrase of St. Francis de Sales that he tries to remember: "If we knew everything God knows, we would will everything to be the way that it is."

I guess waiting patiently is all a part of trusting Him, too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Today I went to confession.  Have you ever noticed that the more you need confession, the less you want to go?  I also really can't wait to go, because I know I need it.  It's hard to explain unless you've experienced it.  Anyway, it was time, crud was building, and I needed to go.

Mercy was waiting for me.  

I think I could go on all night to explain what I mean, but I don't think I could make it any clearer. And so I leave you with that.  If you haven't been to confession in a while, you should go.  Mercy is waiting.  

The Problem with the Catholic Church... usually the Catholics.  Catholics like certain famous names in politics that insist on being referred to as Catholic, though fight for things that are completely contrary to what the Church teaches.  Catholics that feel they are so superior to other religions that they have nothing to learn from them.  Catholics that have reached such a high degree with their doctorates in theology that they are now smarter than the Church and teach all kinds of crazy heresies.  Catholics that go to Church at Christmas and Easter, but no other time.  Catholics that go to catechism classes just at the right time for confession, Communion and confirmation, but no other time.  Catholics who go to Mass and receive their Savior with all the joy of a tired shopper at grocery store.  In other words, the problem with the Catholic Church is me.

When I am defending the Church, Catholics are the biggest obstacles.  I remember more than once explaining the Church's teachings, only to have the person that I was talking to say "Oh, my sister-in-law is Catholic, and she doesn't believe that."  Well, it's what the Church teaches.  Or someone is looking into the possibility of joining the Catholic Church but they are put off by the huge numbers of Catholics that seem to have no concept of who Jesus is.

This state of things regularly frustrates me, as well as convicts me.  Sometimes the question comes up in my mind: How can this be the true Church if there are so many Catholics in it?  How can there be so many graces flowing from the sacraments, if people seem untouched?

That is one of the reasons that I like Romans so far.  First of all, it reminds me again that as a Catholic, the Jews are my spiritual ancestors.  I read in the Old Testament how they screwed up (I think they once went a couple of hundred years without celebrating the Passover, they had fallen so far away from God) and I realize that we screw up a lot as well.  It isn't that it excuses us, but I can recognize that the Jews were God's people because He chose them, and not because they were such exemplary people.  The Catholic Church is God's because He founded it and keeps it, not because of the Catholics in it.

Romans 3:2-4:

"To begin with the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.  What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every man be false."

Monday, July 27, 2009

Oh, Dave

I admit that I don't quite understand it either. Especially people blogging about twittering. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? Yes, I'm yelling at you, the people that copied and pasted your tweets to your blog. Let me check. Yup. Definitely a waste of time.
Although, as a person with a blog that I like to keep updated, I probably shouldn't say too much about wasting time on the internet...

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Healthcare Act

I work in healthcare.  I may not be as much on the front lines as someone working in a hospital, but it is what I see day to day.  There was a bill introduced into the House of Representatives on July 14, 2009 that I am very apprehensive about.  The idea sounds good:

"To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes."

Though I admit to having a low level of trust of government and anything that smacks of loopholes or what I would refer to as "lawyer speak".  Therefore, the first thing I'm thinking is WHAT other purposes??

The short title of the Act is: 'America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009'.

Affordable?  So far I'm hearing some pretty high price tags, and the funny thing is that the government doesn't have any money.  As a taxpayer, I'm thinking that if this bill is enacted I may be able to afford healthcare, but not rent, groceries or to pay off my school loans.

I started skimming through the bill (actually more the introduction and definitions).  I wish I could study it in more depth, but 

1) It would probably take a good month.  Less if I could devote all my time to that and didn't have to do frivolous things like show up to work.
2) I seem to have left my law degree in a different life, and don't understand all of what is being said.

I plan on trying to read more, especially some areas that were highlighted here. But so far, I will say that I agree that healthcare reform needs to be done.  I agree that something needs to be done to cover the gap of the uninsured.  If the government can offer a plan for those that don't have insurance, that would be great, if it was one of many options.

Here's the problem.  Their current reform is going to make it mandatory to lower premiums and raise coverage.  They're going to make it such that insurance companies can't turn down people based on previous conditions.  I know you think it sounds good, but it will force insurance companies out of business.  Unlike the government, businesses can't continue to operate on a deficit by incurring a greater deficit.  Real life doesn't work that way.   Therefore, government coverage will become the way it's done, not one option among many.

There are some good ideas in the bill (I like the idea of no co-pays for preventative care) and it definitely addresses an area of need.  I just don't think that the current bill is going to be the answer.  It's like driving recklessly because you're late to work... better to drive more safely and get to work on time than get in an accident and not make it at all.

Miracle of Loaves and Fishes (Why Barley?)

The readings for Mass today were 2 Kings 4:42-44, Psalm 145:10-11, 15-18, Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15.  My church does little handouts about the Sunday Mass readings, and I really liked the one today by Dr. D'Ambrosio.  I think they get these from the internet, but I'm not sure where, so I can't link it for you.  Instead of talking about it, I'm going to type it out here.  Btw, that last line or so is driving me nuts.  I have no idea what it means!  Where does one research such a thing?

Miracle of Loaves and Fishes (Why Barley?)
by Dr. Marcellino D'Ambrosio

Finding the hidden meanings.  Unraveling mysteries. Deciphering symbols.  The thrill inherent in all this is partly why Dan Brown's book, the Da Vinci Code, sold so well.

But Brown's secret code, the 2000 year chain of clues supposedly leading to the true identity of Jesus and his holy grail, is simply a parody of the real mystery embedded in history.  The writer of this authentic "symbology" is the Holy Spirit and the code book is the Bible.  For thousands of years people have "searched the Scriptures" under the guidance of the same Spirit who inspired them, looking for connections between people, places, things.  They've discovered one coherent story of salvation history amidst many different books, written in different genres and styles, by many different human writers over the course of centuries.

This Sunday, the Church has put together readings to bring out connections that many of us would fail to see without a little help.  Just about every Christian has heard the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, in fact numerous times.  But we've probably overlooked the fact that they were barley loaves. What significance could that have?

Plenty.  First of all, someone in the Old Testament had multiplied loaves, and they too were barley loaves.  Elisha was the successor of Elijah, the greatest of all prophets.  Elijah had multiplied flour and oil to save a widow and her son from starvation. Elisha did a bit better than his master, multiplying 20 barley loaves so as to feed 100, with some even left over.  But in the Gospel, Jesus multiplies 5 barley loaves and feeds 5,000, leaving 12 baskets left over.  We're talking serious one-upmanship here.

So here's one clear message: Jesus is a prophet greater than even Elijah and Elisha.

But there is someone else who is referenced here, though you have to look a bit harder to see him.  Did anyone else in the Old Testament provide bread for God's people in the wilderness?  Of course! Moses and the manna.  What is the symbolic number associated with Moses? There are five books of Moses which are called the Torah or Pentateuch. No wonder Jesus starts with five barley loaves.  He is transforming the Mosaic Law into something much bigger, greater, and more nourishing.  Moses predicted that God would raise up a prophet like himself (Deut 18:18). The people got the point- Jesus had to slip away to avoid them making him king (Jn 6:14-15).

But let's get back to those barley loaves.  There is even more symbolism here to probe.  Barley is the first grain to be harvested in the Spring, and the feast of unleavened bread celebrates the first fruits of the barley harvest.  Jesus performs this miracle as Passover approaches, and will go on later in John 6 to explain that he himself is the bread of life.  The miracle of the loaves points backwards to great events in the Old Testament to give us clues as to who Jesus really is. But it also points forward to the future, to what Jesus will do in the upper room on the night before he died and which will be made present again in every Eucharist.  The people recline where there is much grass, verdant pastures (Psalm 23), and the Good Shepherd, after giving thanks (eucharistia in biblical Greek) feeds them with rich fare that causes their cup to run over with blessings of not only earthly satisfaction, but eternal life.

How many baskets of scraps are left over? Twelve, the mystical number symbolizing God's people. Twelve tribes, twelve patriarchs, and now twelve apostles, the patriarchs of the New Israel gathering up the remnants of a feast that will be the new covenant meal of God's new people, the celebration of their deliverance, the new food for the journey to the true promised land, heaven.

But how about the fish? What do they symbolize?  You'll have to do some research and figure that one out for yourself!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

God, Gimme Some Patience Right Now!

I don't have a lot of patience.  I know what I want, and I'm going after it.  Unless it takes too much effort, then I might procrastinate or stop altogether.  Difficulties, meh, not interested.  Or I might sit down and fuss and cry until someone comes along to fix the problem. (Figuratively, of course.  Still immature, but at least no one should have to stage an intervention.) Or I might get distracted and go off on a tangent.  (Except on this blog.  I've never gotten tangential on this blog.)

Do you know what patience is?

pa tience |'pa SH ens|


1 the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset : you can find bargains if you have the patience to sift through the dross.
2 chiefly British term for SOLITARE (sense 1).

First of all, do you know how hard it is to type phonetic spellings, even if you're copying something?  I failed, because I didn't want to bother to figure out how to do the accent marks.  Secondly, how dumb is that example sentence?  I don't know why, but I don't like the word "dross".  I never really thought about it before today, but as I was reading the sample sentence, I found myself thinking just how stupid a word it is.  (No disrespect meant to smelters everywhere.)  Also, I love reading the dictionary, because you get to learn new languages!  I had no idea that "patience" was British for "solitaire". (And by "reading the dictionary", I mean looking up words to get a better understanding.  I have never actually sat down to read the dictionary.  Sadly, my dad and my sister have. Crazy relations.)
Well, if you're still reading after that collection of tangents, let's talk about "the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry or upset".  That is the capacity that I lack.  It doesn't matter if it is the person in front of me that doesn't start rolling forward the instant the light turns green, the fact that I inevitably pick the wrong line at the store where the person with only three purchases takes 10 years/30 seconds because they decide to write a check, or if my internet takes more than a second to load.  I get annoyed.  If work tells me that I'll be able to leave early and then schedules an extra patient, I get irritated.  And if God allows me to remain single longer than I can tolerate being single, then I get flat out mad. 

It was interesting for me to realize that I did believe that God had a perfect plan for my life, and that He could work it out, whatever it is, because rather than being happy that He had answered a rather specific prayer, I was annoyed that He wasn't working out that plan fast enough (i.e. right now).  By the way, it all comes back to trust again.  Because clearly He is working out His plan for my life every single moment of my life, it's just that His plan is on a little different schedule than mine.  To be impatient is to not trust every bit of His plan, down to the minutest detail of timing.

Anyway, eventually I managed to begrudgingly ask for some patience, with a prayer something along the lines of the title of this post.  (Btw, sometimes I feel bad that I'm not very warm and winsome. I should be more gracious to my King and my God.  But then I tell God I'm just trying to be honest with Him, and besides it's all His fault, because He made me this way.)

Rude or not, He answered.  Not by changing the situation one little iota, but by changing me a little bit.  It's hard to define.  All I can tell you is that for this one moment I am willing to live my single vocation for one moment longer.  Not that I want to, but that I'm willing to.  

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Then and Now

I don't know where we got the idea that we are so different now than humans have ever been before.  We really think that we're original, but we definitely aren't.  

Pull out your stereotype conservative Christian for a minute.  Listen to him bemoan the state of the world, the rampant sin such as the world has never seen before.

Now stuff him back in the box and pull out your stereotype liberal for a minute.  Listen to him explain the huge advances that we have made to now understand that homosexuality is natural, we don't really need the Bible, and now that we have science we are truly enlightened, and we need to throw off the last vestiges of bondage that we have to the traditional rules.

Then open your Bible to Romans 1:18-32.

Then, as now, people suppressed the truth to promote their own agendas.

Then, as now, God is evident throughout creation, waiting only for our acknowledgment.  Perhaps at that time, they worshipped actual carved idols, while we worship ourselves, setting ourselves in the place to decide right and wrong, good and bad, according to our desires.

Then, as now, we have exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worship creatures rather than the Creator.

Then, as now, God has given us up to all manner of wickedness.  This doesn't mean that He causes it, that He condones it, or that He isn't waiting to help us change.  It means that He allows us to make that decision. I can't help but feel that He has "given us up" to all of this in allowing us to choose a president that seems intent on leading us further into all these things. Btw, "all these things", such as widespread and accepted contraception, homosexuality, abortion, gossiping, slander, lies, murder and the rest of it- Romans at the time of Paul had this every bit as much as we do today.  We really aren't new and special in that regard.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

A Letter to Protestants

I would just like to say that you've ruined Bible study for me.  Catholic Bible study, anyway.  Actually, I love Catholic Bible study, but sometimes I don't like studying the Bible with other Catholics.  And it's your fault.

You're pushy, you know.  You've pushed me to be comfortably at home in the Bible.  Both by your example and by your questions about what I believe.  In my answers, you accept nothing less than biblical authority.

Because of you, I sometimes get frustrated if Bible study is just a class that is taught, no matter how good the information is that I receive.  Because reading Scripture around you all reminds me that Scripture is not only to be listened to, but to be engaged on a personal level.

In other words, thank you.

Note: I know a lot of Catholics that are at home in the Scripture and that engage the Scripture in a personal way.  In my own life, however, a lot of my comfort with reading the Scripture comes from Protestant family and friends, as well as former Protestants who brought their love of Scripture with them into the Church.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Justification (Or, How Do We Get to Heaven?)

I know most people aren't that excited about theological debates and what not.  But I am!  And so I will write about it.  Ain't blogging grand?  

For the last five hundred years, Catholics and Protestants have been arguing about this.  Protestants say that faith alone is what saves you.  Believe on Jesus and you will be saved.  Catholics say that faith is needed, but you can't ignore works either.  Catholics say you need the sacraments.  Most Protestants don't see the need for those, and they usually only have two if any.  Then we start the Bible wars with proof texts flying from both sides.

Round and round we go, for going on 500 years.  So much ink spilled, as well as blood and tears. Debates and arguments galore.  

I don't know why they didn't just ask me in the first place.  I can tell you in one word.  I don't care who you are, Catholic, Protestant, whatever.  Here's how you get saved:


Every Catholic teaching boils down to Him. Every Protestant view I've ever heard boils down to Him.  No matter what else we can say about the subject, salvation is all about Jesus.  

There is a lot more to be said on the subject.  There are a lot of Bible topics that need to be waded through.  As I continue to go through Romans, I'll have a lot more to say about faith/works/justification and what the Catholic view is on all of the above.  But really, I think that we could spend a lot less energy fighting each other, knowing that we all believe that salvation is from Christ.  We also have a lot that we could learn from one another, too, if we could recognize our common ground at the starting point.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Temperaments and a Kid at the Park

In the last few years, I have started to learn a lot more about some of the basic temperaments.  It's actually very interesting in studying people in general as well as in coming to know yourself and your family in a whole different way.  I'm most familiar with the terms started long ago.  I want to say Romans and Greeks had something to do with it, but I'm too lazy to do the back check right now.

You can learn more here if you're interested, but the short story is:

Cholerics are extraverted, self-motivated leaders.

Melancholics are introverted, deeply thoughtful perfectionists.

Phlegmatics are introverted, easy-going amiable folks.

Sanguines are extraverted, funny, affectionate people-persons. (Eh, that's a weird plural.)

I would be what they would call a melancholic-phlegmatic, with the strongest tendency toward melancholic.  They have write ups of the different personalities, including strengths and weaknesses of each personality type.  There are some in the Catholic world that are particularly interested in these due to the affect personality can have on spiritual growth.  Anyway, let me tell you how the melancholic-phlegmatic description reads through a melancholic filter:

Due to melancholic fears and tendencies toward perfectionism, this person often finds themselves paralyzed in the face of new projects. With a double dose of introversion, they are socially awkward beyond belief. Because of their innate negativity, they are likely to be unable to work and play well with others, and at the same time be perceived as snobs.  They are needy and highly susceptible to anxiety, depression and a negative self-image.   They have a tendency toward hypochondria and genuine physical weakness.  Though they tend to have strong feelings, you would never know this as they are encased in a cold outer shell that they present to the world.

I decided that I didn't like that description, so I took the test again, hoping to skew the results to something a little less depressing.  No go.  Unless I outright lied, I was looking at melancholic-phlegmatic. And, if you read the actual description, you will see that while I did pick things that were truly present, my mind automatically focuses on the negative and perhaps overemphasizes some of those points! :) Thus proving the point that I am melancholic, I guess.

How about another facet of the melancholic mind. (Seriously, I get depressed even by the name "melancholic".  There needs to be a different name.  Phlegmatic is also bad.  It technically means someone that has an overabundance of phlegm!  Phlegm!  I'm not kidding!)  Wait.  Where was I?  Oh, right.  Small talk and I are not great friends.  I prefer deep topics.  My mind will go to deep places whether I want it to or not.

Yesterday, I was at the park with some friends, and we watched in amusement when a small child went racing past while his mother called him in the opposite direction.  His excuse: "My body is running away!"

My first reaction was, that's hilarious.  I love it when kids do stuff like that when I don't have to deal with it.  Reminds me of when my sister would stick out her tongue at me and then claim that she was "stretching it".

Okay, then there was the other reaction.  One that I prefer not to admit, but I have to live up to the "confessions" portion of my blog name sometimes.  That reaction was "Hmm, someone should tell that kid that our bodies are only a visible, outward expression of who we really are inside..." TOB? On the playground?  Where did that come from?

Then I mentally slapped myself in the face and went back to drawing stuff in the dirt with a stick.  (What can I say?  There is a two-year-old that I can't say no to, and if he wants to play in the dirt, I just ask what I'm supposed to draw.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Last Few Weeks

I've told you a little about how God has been teaching me to have more faith and to kick the fear to the curb. Silly me, I do remember very specifically praying that I would learn to trust Him and His plan for me at least to some degree before I met someone.  Things to remember before I pray a prayer like that again:

1) God tends to answer those.
2) Usually the process involves many, many opportunities to practice.
3) Those opportunities are usually much more frequent and much more difficult that I ever really wanted to deal with.
4) I also get to learn a LOT of humility because I fail most of those opportunities.  Over and over.
5) Before it's finished, I'll wish I would have specified an amount of faith (or patience or humility or whatever) so that I could stop now.
6)  It's never finished.  Not this side of heaven, anyway. 

Hmm, seems like there's something else...

Oh, yes.

7) I hate to admit it, but it's typically highly worth it; though sometimes I wish I could just take a pill instead.

When I write a post about all the great things God's been showing me about having faith, about 2.62 seconds after I hit publish I usually find a way to cannonball into a pool of fear.  So I haven't written one in a while.  

After the last post, I was talking to my friend that had just gotten married.  She had returned from her honeymoon and was out shopping for two for the first time.  Mostly we had a nice chat, but at one point I let Fear and his buddy Bitter come out to play.  I think I might have said something about "if I ever get married" with a lovely little "pity me" emphasis on the "if".  She blithely responded with "Oh, it'll happen someday."

Ooh.  Bitter came bounding around the corner then, making a flying leap to respond:   "You don't know that!"  In my head, I was fuming because she was back from her honeymoon, still glowing from all the events of the last couple of weeks, and I thought she was just dismissing me. (Seriously, if I had a dollar for every time I heard that brush off, I'd have a good $42 dollars at least, and we could all go out to dinner!)

She wasn't brushing me off. She hesitated so she could be sure that she was saying exactly what she meant: "Well, I guess I don't know that for sure, but that's the desire that God's placed in your heart, so I believe that He'll fulfill that desire."

I wish I could convey through the computer screen how completely matter of fact her words were.  Maybe I can't cough up faith on command, but I have been resting in hers for the last little bit. She effectively tossed out Fear and Bitter on their ears.  They didn't even dare show their scruffy little selves at the next wedding that I was at, which was awesome.  It was so great to sit back and simply rejoice with my friends.

I don't have it all figured out.  I'll continue to fail frequently.  God has gotten me to the point that the last couple of weeks the struggle has been a lot less about fear, and a lot more about impatience.  The problem is, the last thing I want to do is pray for patience!  

Context, Context, Context

Doesn't have quite the same ring as the real estate mantra, but every bit as important.  This Wednesday, I didn't really want to go to Bible study.  I certainly want to learn about the book of Romans.  However, this Wednesday we were due to go over the intro.  Fifteen verses.  Two hours. I don't really like those chairs, and two hours is a long time.  I figured I wouldn't be missing much.  It's only 15 verses, right?  

I went anyway.  Not bad. The Bible is a funny book.  It's absolutely true that as the Word of God, it's always relevant to every time and place.  However, it's also a written work that can be better understood if placed in the context of who the author is, where the author is in history and what the intention behind the writing was.  I think that it's too easy for us to read the Bible as 21st century Americans and try to force the text to fit our own preconceived notions.  The first 35-40 minutes was a discussion about the context of Romans.

There were several things that were pointed out.  One was that Romans (and the other epistles) are letters that are written to churches that are already established.  They are not written to be catechisms for all of the beliefs of Christians at the time.  In fact, they often highlight some of the less discussed aspects of Christian belief, as the more understood ones did not need so much explanation.  This is not as much the case with Romans, as it was written to a group of Christians that Paul had yet to meet, rather than a church that he established.  It still wasn't a catechism, but he was trying to establish contact, not correcting them for what they were doing wrong.

There was no such things as the Catholic and Protestant debate, only the Gentile Christians and the Jewish Christians. Also, the epistle was written at a time when most people were illiterate.  Not stupid, but there was no printing press.  The availability of the printed word was very limited, so people listened to things and remembered them.  They were read in the context of a liturgical (or public worship) setting.  There was no official New Testament at that time, though the various writing did begin to make it around to the different churches at an early date.

I think the liturgical setting of the New Testament writings is very important, and not something that we are used to thinking about now that we have a Bible per person sitting in the house.  We may let them collect dust, but they're there.  Think about how the New Testament writings came to be collected into a formal list or canon.  First of all, these were all books that were being read at liturgies.  Most of the ones that we have now, though some places included books that we don't have in our New Testament.  Other places may have rejected a few that we now have.  In general, though, there seemed to have been mostly a consensus.  However, it was decided that there needed to be a list: which books were fit to be included in rites of public worship and which were not.  This was decided in a council by a bunch of men, but it wasn't something that they magically made up because they had the power to do whatever they wanted.  Rather, they recognized what was already occurring.  They recognized which books had the most antiquity, were the most reliable, were the most accepted by the most churches throughout the history of the Church up to that time.

It's interesting.  The Scriptures were written to be read in a group of people at a liturgical setting.  They were put in a canon to recognize which should be read in a liturgical setting.  Now that we have the Scripture widely available, we can and should take the time to study the Scripture in a variety of settings, but I think it's very important to keep in mind that the natural context of Scripture is the liturgy.  Of course, the liturgy also doesn't make any sense without an understanding of the Scripture, but that's more a topic for my other discussion about the biblical roots of the Mass.

I even have a few things to say about the text of Romans.  In the first verse, Paul refers to himself as a slave of Christ Jesus. (If you are in my other Bible study, raise your hands if you can hear Mary in your head: "CHAINS!") One of the group was having a hard time seeing why Paul would refer to himself as a slave, since being a slave is something that most of us don't aspire to.  I thought about that for a while.  Here's what I think.  Paul refers to his calling to spread the gospel...the gospel is the good news of salvation.  We were set free from sin and raised to new life in Christ.  Aren't there some cultures where if someone saves your life, you belong to them forever in a debt of gratitude and love?  

We also spent some time discussing what it was to be an apostle, and why Paul could call himself that even though he didn't follow Christ during Christ's lifetime on earth.  One of the things about the culture of the time that we need to understand is that an apostle (which means "one who is sent") was an emissary for Christ.  In those times, an important person couldn't fly to all his important meetings all over the world.  Sometimes he had to send someone to act on his behalf.  There were no phone calls, so the emissary had the authority to do the will of the one that sent him.  That is the authority that the Apostles had, but they didn't make up what they were doing, they did what Christ sent them to do.

Verse 2 discussed how the gospel was "promised previously through [God's] prophets in the holy scriptures", showing that Christ and the gospel were not something that God decided to do at the spur of the moment, but were something that He set in motion from the foundation of the world.  It showed how God is faithful to fulfill those promises made to the prophets.  Keep in mind that Paul was a trained Pharisee that had studied the Scripture extensively.  He knew what he was talking about.

Well, there's two verses.  I'm not going to keep going.  I think this post is plenty long enough.  Let that be a lesson to me that there is plenty to discuss in 15 verses, even if it is "only" an intro.


One of Those Quizzes

You’re St. Justin Martyr!

You have a positive and hopeful attitude toward the world. You think that nature, history, and even the pagan philosophers were often guided by God in preparation for the Advent of the Christ. You find “seeds of the Word” in unexpected places. You’re patient and willing to explain the faith to unbelievers.

Find out which Church Father you are at The Way of the Fathers!

Monday, July 13, 2009

National Parks and the Catholic Church

I've already talked about the way that camping became connected with confession in my head. Now there's another one that I was thinking about while I was there. National Parks and the Catholic Church. Can you come up with any similarities?  I kind of hope you can, because if you can't then that means that I'm the weird one around here.  Well, me and Boyd:

"Hello again!"

First, can we please talk about how much I love national parks?  They're amazing.  I really like the work that they do to preserve natural habitats so that everyone can come to see them.  I love the trails at most of the parks, and I love that when you're on those trails you can get far enough away that you usually don't have to see cities and cars and all that jazz.  It's just you and some outstanding scenery. (And some snakes, scorpions and bears, but don't worry, they probably won't eat you.  Do stay away from the chipmunks.)

The thing about the national parks is that in the midst of all the ways they educate you, there are TONS of rules.  Stay on the trails.  Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.  Take water and plenty of food with you when you hike.  Don't go jogging alone (due to mountain lions). In Rocky Mountain National Park, you hear a lot of cautions about being below the tree line in the mid afternoon because of the storms.  In Grand Canyon, they tell you not to attempt to hike to the river and back in a day.

More rules from the Grand Canyon:

Uhh, thanks for the helpful tip.  If you fell off the edge of the Grand Canyon, would it really look like that?
Okay, now do you see the similarities between the Catholic Church and the national park systems?

Here's what I was thinking:

1) The national parks do nothing to create the beauty that they protect.  They are only there to preserve that for everyone who comes.  The Catholic Church does not make up the truth, but only preserves it for all generations.

2) The rules in the park are there for your own safety and well being. Clearly, as funny as I think the picture of falling off the edge is, the reality would not be funny.  Taking adequate food and water is so you don't die on the trail.  The rules about not going off the trail and so forth are there to keep people from causing damage to the natural habitat that surrounds us.  There are lots of people that ignore the rules, to their detriment and to the detriment of the park.  The Catholic Church is also accused of having a lot of rules.  These are not there arbitrarily, but are there to keep us from going off the edge spiritually.  They also are there to preserve the truth.  There are some things that the Church teaches (for example, embryonic stem cell research is wrong) that seem to be awfully harsh, but are there to preserve the fullness of truth.

3)  In the parks, you do well to listen to the rangers.  It is their job to know the climate, to know the ins and outs of the particular park, the wild life, what the dangers are.  In the Church, we do well to listen to the clergy.  It is their calling to lead us to Christ, and their life's work to know what they are talking about.

4) The parks can be a little dangerous.  At Mesa Verde, one of the rangers spent a lot of time telling us if you fell off one of the cliffs, what it would take to get rescue to you and how difficult it would be.  The Grand Canyon has a lot of warnings, including one that says the difference between and great trip and a hospitalization or worse is you.  There were times that I thought, why am I here, braving the weather conditions, the steep edges, and the chipmunks?  But really, if you follow the rules, there is not much to fear, and the rewards are fantastic.  Some people get upset about the "guilt trip" of all of the rules of the Church and lose sight of the awe and majesty that is waiting if they follow the rules to safely dive deep into the wonders of the truth.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Who Is Melchizedek?

I dare you to answer that question.  Biblical scholars have guesses, but no solid answers.  Oh, they know some things about him, but they don't really know who he is or where he came from or why he is so important.

He makes his only brief appearance in Genesis 14:18-20.  We know that he was the king of Salem, and that he was a priest.  He had the authority to make an offering to God and to bless Abram.  Abram recognized his authority and tithed to him.

Some say that the offering of Melchizedek was a sort of pre-figuring of a Korban Todah (sacrifice of thanksgiving/praise), because of the bread and wine involved (though I think that Korban Todah also involved a lamb typically... I'll double check that and get back with you).

There are also the interesting words in Psalm 110:4 "The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.'"  Those words would have originally applied to Solomon, but we also know that they are a prophecy of Christ (see Hebrews 7).

Christ is a king, the King of Kings.  He is also the definitive High Priest, not according to the Mosaic law (He was from the tribe of Judah, not a Levite), but according to the order of Melchizedek.  I would say that He is the bringer of a new law that fulfills the old, ineffective one.

I suppose this doesn't really have any answers in it.  I'm just thinking "out loud" so to speak.

Back to the Biblical Roots of the Mass

About a month ago, I started talking about the Mass and the biblical roots of the Mass.  By this point, I'm sure that you thought the whole thing had fallen victim to my ADD tendencies and been abandoned.  Not so much. I can't wait to talk about it.  I have so much to say, you won't even believe it... Actually, you might.  You might also be bored by it.  Hopefully not, but I can't help it!  I get really excited about it, and if that means I'm a nerd, then I can live with that.

Check out Genesis 4:1-16.  The synopsis is that Cain made an offering of his harvest and Abel offered the firstlings of his flock.  God accepted Abel's sacrifice, but not Cain's.  Cain was jealous, killed Abel, and lied about it.  God punished Cain, but His punishment was not without mercy.

What is it with sacrifice?  The very first thing that we hear about after Adam and Eve get kicked out of the Garden of Eden is the offering of sacrifice to God.  This is an essential part of Judaism throughout the Old Testament, as well as a key component of worship for many pagans.

But why? I don't have a straight up answer for that.  All I know is that the word "sacrifice" comes from a root word that means "to make holy."  They're offered to God to give Him glory and praise and to ask for mercy.  I think, too, that they are a way of "putting your money where your mouth is".  It appears that Cain didn't offer the best of what he had to give, which may be why God didn't accept his sacrifice.  It was a way for the people of the time to put the weight of their actions behind their words.  We don't make animal sacrifices anymore, but when we do make sacrifices, we tend to do it for people that we love or causes that are very important.

I know I don't fully understand sacrifices, but I think that they're very important to continue to learn about.  The more we understand Judaism and Jewish sacrifice, the better we'll understand our own faith as well.

More later.  Among other things I can't wait to talk about todah offerings.

Saturday, July 11, 2009


I'm excited.  Our parish just started a study of the book of Romans for most of the rest of the summer.  I admit that I have not really studied the book of Romans before.  I have read it a time or two.  I've heard it in Mass.  It comes up at times in apologetics discussions, but I haven't really dug in and studied it.  

I don't want to be overly argumentative, but I do want to look at apologetics a lot while I study this book (i.e. blog about it).  For a lot of Protestant ideologies, Romans seems to be the "go to" book.  This seems to be particularly true for ideas about justification (how a person is saved).  I don't know if any Protestant has actually said it to me, but I get the impression that they think that I'm (as a Catholic) making salvation too difficult, maybe trying to jump through too many hoops.  

Here's my impression of the Protestant thought process as it relates to this subject:

You wanna be saved? Ask Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior, and ask Him to forgive your sins (Romans 10:9).  Done. 
You wanna be Catholic? Well, it's quite a process.  First you have to go through 9 months of training, publicly declare your intent, and finally enter the Church.  Then you have to be baptized, if you haven't been already, then you receive Confirmation and Holy Communion. If you were baptized before you're received into the Church, you'll also have to go to confession  before you receive the other sacraments.  Then you begin a life long process of growing in holiness, and you have to keep in mind that just as you chose to follow Christ, you could choose to abandon Him.  Therefore, you're still not guaranteed heaven until you actually get there.

Huh, the Catholic view doesn't seem to fit well in light of verses like Romans 5:1: "Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."  Or: "No human being will be justified in [God's] sight by works of the law... we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law" (Rom 3:20, 28).  "[Y]ou are not under the law but under grace." (Rom 6:14).  Romans 7:6 "[B]y dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code."  See also Romans 8:3, and 10:4.

Catholics! Set yourselves free from the rules and regulations of the Catholic Church and become alive in Christ!


That is the attitude that I want to respond to as we work through Romans.  I want to dig deep to talk about what Catholics believe and how the book of Romans influences that belief.  The deacon's wife that is presenting this presentation has already alluded to the fact that we will be addressing some of these very issues.  

By the way, I think that the Protestant view of Catholics (as I understand it) has a lot for Catholics to learn from.  I would especially say that any Catholic that follows all the rules of the Church but has no idea what it means to have a personal encounter with Christ needs to pay attention.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


When we were at the Grand Canyon, we were amazed by the vastness of it all.  You couldn't really grasp it.  There was not much to give you the perspective that you needed.  It was about a mile from the top of the rim to the bottom of the canyon.  It was about nine miles across, and visibility was so clear at times that you could see mountains 90 miles away.  From the rim, the river appears to be about 10 feet across.  You'd have to get a lot closer than we did in order to be able to see the reality: that sucker is around 76 feet wide.  I believe these rapids are about a mile long:

As I stood on the canyon rim, I tried to wrap my head around all that I was seeing.  It occurred to me at that moment that God was infinitely more vast than the Canyon. 


Monday, July 6, 2009

Camping and Confession

I am not a big fan of camping.  I will do it in the right circumstances, but it's usually not my first choice.  Give me a hotel with a shower and someone to clean up after me.  Or better yet, my own bed, so I'm not imagining all the people that have slept there before me.  But sometimes, you have to camp.  Either that, or cut the trip in half so you can afford it.  So camping it was.  We had the most awesome tent ever.

 This view has you looking at the door, which we couldn't use because it was sewn shut.  Apparently the zipper had broken, and it was either permanently open or permanently closed.  Since the big back window had a perfectly good zipper, we went with permanently closed.

Now you would think, knowing that, I would have realized that this tent had a few issues.  I knew it was old, but I thought that it was some poles and some fabric, so how much could go wrong (other than the zipper)?  Well, fabric might get holes.  You could start out a few stakes short.  And perhaps the elastic on the rain fly could be completely useless.  Ahem, in theory, mind you.  I will say that I'm glad we didn't have to try to face the rain in this thing.  Although, perhaps if it had failed as bad in the rain as it seems like it would have, we could have pitched it (haha, yeah I know it's an awful pun).  We tried to convince my mom that it had worked hard enough and should be retired to a better place, but she insisted that we bring it back.  Maybe she thought we were exaggerating?  I appreciate my parents' willingness to share their old tent while they took their good one elsewhere, but next time I'll just cough up the dough to buy my own.

About the only place that I will camp is in the national parks.  I can't stand the in town campgrounds where you can share your neighbors' tent stakes (though that might have solved a few problems for us this time around).  Also, if I have to be in a tent, I at least like the feeling of wilderness around me, and this way I don't have to hike somewhere with a tent on my back.  Those packs look ridiculously heavy!  Most national park restrooms do have running water and flushing toilets, but few have showers.  That's a bit of an issue if you are camping from Monday to Thursday in national parks.  And if you put on a lot of sunscreen while you're hiking.  And if you hike in the hot, hot sun on dusty trails and the dust sticks to the sunscreen and your sweat.  And if you glop on more sunscreen over the top of the whole mess.

Yuck.  Just yuck.

We did what we could to clean up using the sinks in the bathroom and wet wipes, but it leaves a lot to be desired.  The wet wipes themselves tended to leave a bit of a residue.  Let me say that I forgot how salty sweat can be until this trip.  Another reason that I'm not a huge fan of camping. (Still wouldn't trade it for the city campground with showers though.  Look at the picture above.  If you can see past the sorry, lopsided affair that tried to pass for a tent, you'll see why I'll complain, but continue to book national park campgrounds.)


Now let's shift gears for a moment to confession. If I had to pick one thing about Catholicism that people understand the least (besides Mary) it would be confession.  Or reconciliation, or whatever you want to call it. My Baptist friend (MBF) thinks I'm an anomaly as a Catholic because I read the Bible and because I know Jesus.  I think she gets really confused as to why I would choose to remain Catholic if I'm otherwise apparently somewhat enlightened to a more real Christian faith.  She really doesn't get it when I tell her that my relationship with Jesus and my understanding of the Bible is because of my Catholic faith and not in spite of it.

MBF has asked me several times if I believed in this or that that the Catholic Church teaches.  I think she keeps hoping that I will not have blindly fallen for everything that comes from Rome, since I've read a little of the Bible myself. I keep telling her that I believe it all.  (Again, because I read the Bible.  She still doesn't get it.)

One day, she asked me: "You don't go to confession do you?"  There was a definite distaste in her tone and expression when she spit that word out.  Surely I understood that only Jesus forgives sins and you don't need to jump through hoops in front of a priest in order to be forgiven.

I smiled and I said, "Yes, yes I do."  Not only that, but I love it.  I don't really get excited to go and humble myself in confession, but the benefits outweigh the drawbacks.  Many stem from the drawbacks themselves.  I can round up biblical answers if you want.  I can pull evidence from the early Church fathers that shows that there was some form of confession from the beginning.  Someday I'll be happy to, if you're interested, but for now I want to share my own experience.

Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins.  The wounds of His sufferings pour out more grace than they do drops of blood.  The grace that spills forth from His sacrifice covers the earth and only waits for me to accept it. 

I can and I do ask Jesus to forgive my sins as I commit them.  I try to take a moment at night to consider the places that I have fallen short, so that I can ask for forgiveness.  I know that He can and does forgive me in that moment.  As far as I'm concerned, it feels like the spiritual equivalent of a sponge bath or using the wet wipes.  It helps, but it leaves some residue.  It doesn't quite get it all off.  The first day or two it's not so bad, but after a while the residue has a tendency to outpace the cleaning.  It gets to the point where you can't decide whether or not to put on clean clothes or not, because you know whatever you put on will be dirty the second it touches you.  You keep going, because it's better than nothing, but you start to get more and more desperate for the shower.

Confession!  Now that's the spiritual equivalent to the long awaited shower.  Graces pouring over you, washing away the grit and the grime, refreshing and cleaning all at once.  It is not an unnecessary hoop to jump through to get grace, but a channel of grace beyond what is available without it.  That's how I feel when I leave confession.  Just like that shower left me feeling like a whole new person, that's confession.

Jesus always forgives a repentant heart, with or without confession.  As for me, I choose confession, because I need it.  I have learned to depend on showers and I have learned to depend on confession.

Ha!  I bet you didn't think that I could make any connection between camping and confession. There is also a connection between the national parks and the Church.  I'll let you think on that for a while.  Yes, my brain really does go there, even while I'm on vacation.  I didn't try to come up with these thoughts, but now that I've had them,  I'm going to inflict them on any and all unwary readers as well.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Old and New in Hebrews

This is a continuation of the discussion of heaven and the book of Hebrews.  The same caveats apply.
What do you know about the old sanctuaries?  There were various courts in the Temple, each one getting successively more holy.  If I remember correctly, first there was an outer court, were everyone could be (including Gentiles), and there was a court for the women and children, then for the men.  Then there was the Holy Place.  This, as I understand it, is where the altar was.  This was the place that the priests entered to perform their duties.  They were only allowed to enter at certain times, and had very specific duties that they attended to (see Luke 1:8-9).  Finally there was the Holy of Holies.  

This was the place.  This was where the throne of God was on earth.  This is what made the Temple so holy.  This is why the Jews came to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice instead of offering sacrifices to God wherever they were.  Only the high priest was allowed to enter there, and he was only allowed once a year, or on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  This was the holiest of days and the holiest of places.  That was the day that God was said to be closest to the people, the most ready and willing to hear their prayers for mercy.

Can you imagine the first time you entered into the Holy of Holies as a high priest?  It had to be intimidating, if you had any thought for eternal realities.  Yet, if you only looked at it through earthly eyes, it may have been rather ridiculous.  When the ark of the covenant was there, it may have been a sight to see, yet the brilliance of the gold cherubim had to be dimmed by the dust of centuries.  The ark held the manna from the desert (Exodus 16:2-5), the rod of Aaron that had flowered (Numbers 17), and the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:1-4), but who could see those things?  They were in the ark.  After Jeremiah hid the ark before the Babylonian exile, the Holy of Holies in the new temple was empty.  There would have been nothing but dust and cobwebs and dried blood.  

Yes, dried blood.  For when the high priest entered, it was "not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people." (Heb 9:7)  This is an important part of the Day of Atonement sacrifices.  It was not complete unless the high priest entered the Holy of Holies with the blood of goats or calves and sprinkled it as an offering for the sin of the people. 

The author of Hebrews refers to the sacrifices being less than perfect, because they could not cleanse the conscience of the people (Heb 9:9-10).  That's why they had to be repeated all the time. Let's talk for a moment about those imperfect sacrifices.  "Imperfect" does not equate to "worthless".  God did not specifically choose a people to be His own and command them to perform worthless, mindless tasks.  These rituals are each shot through with meaning and overflowing with symbolism that can lead us deeper into the mystery of God.  Though they are imperfect, they are the way that God prepared the minds and hearts of the people for something greater.  These structures may only be a shadow of things to come (Heb 10:1), but even a shadow has an outline and a form that matches in some way to the reality.

Verses 11-12:

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves, but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."

Everything that was present in the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement is now present in heaven.   The empty, earthly one is now obsolete, and this was shown by the tearing of the Temple veil in two at the moment that Jesus died.  The high priest that entered the true Holy of Holies was Jesus, and the blood that He brought was His own.  The rod of Aaron was replaced by a much greater, eternal high priesthood of Christ.  The word of God on the stone tablets was replaced with the living Word, Christ (John 1:1).  And the manna was replaced by the living Bread come down from heaven (John 6).  Even the ark was replaced for a living one, Mary (Revelation 11:19-12:1).

There is frequently an accusation made that Catholics re-sacrifice Christ at every Mass because we believe that the sacrifice of the cross is present every time at the moment of consecration.  These verses, with the phrase "once for all" are used to show how "un-biblical" such a notion is.  I do believe that Christ's actual sacrifice is present at each Mass, but it is not that He is re-sacrificed every time.  It is that His one, eternal sacrifice is made present.  He is eternally present in the Holy of Holies in heaven, eternally present in the moment of offering His blood of sacrifice to the Father for our sins.  That one and only and eternal sacrifice is what is made present at the moment of consecration in the Mass.

I heart my Judaism class from college.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Of Heaven and the Book of Hebrews

We interrupt the special programming of all things vacation for some regularly scheduled discussion of all things Catholic and Bible.  When I was on vacation (oops, how did that word slip in there?), I started reading Hebrews.  Interesting book.  There's a lot that I don't quite grasp, but there's a lot of good stuff in there.  One of the things that is really striking me is how important it is to understand the Old Covenant in order to understand the New.

I don't know about you, but I have had a tendency to dismiss the Old Testament.  You know, "the old has gone and the new has come" type of a mentality. Only, in my mind it often becomes: "The old is worthless and the new is the only thing that matters; why would I want to waste my time reading genealogies and the laws for animal sacrifice?"

These thoughts for today come from Hebrews.  Hebrews 9, verse 1 to be exact*:

"Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary."

I think the word "even" is interesting.  It's not in the New International Version (NIV), but it is in the New King James (NKJV) and English Standard (ESV) versions (All three fairly common Protestant translations).  It's also in both my Catholic translations.** Does that imply that it would be more likely that there would be regulations for worship in the second, definitive covenant based on Christ's sacrifice?  Verse 23 refers to the earthly Jewish sanctuaries, the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies as "copies" of heavenly things.

Think about that for a few minutes.  Over and over again, we're given descriptions in the Bible of the dimensions of these sanctuaries.  First the tent that was constructed by Israelites while they were wandering in the desert, then the temple of Solomon.  I don't remember if they gave the precise description after the Temple was rebuilt after the exile, but it followed the same principles.  These principles were not made up by the Jewish people, but given them by God so that there earthly worship could somehow reflect heaven.  Heavy stuff!  If only you knew how much I tend to skip over descriptions like that in the Bible, and all along I could have been learning something of heaven!

This is hard to grasp.  The Temple tells us something about heaven.  It is not heaven.  My pictures of the Grand Canyon may tell you something about the Grand Canyon.  They are not the Grand Canyon.  Have you seen the Grand Canyon?  Last month was the first time for me.  I had seen pictures, so I recognized it, but experiencing it is not the same as seeing a picture. 

As a Catholic, I have been accused of having a Mass that is too "by the book".  According to this person, with all the dusty rituals, there's no room for the Holy Spirit to work.  I'm very eloquent when it's in the moment like that, so I choked, turned red in the face and tried to sputter 16 different explanations all at once.

If I were a little more smooth, perhaps I could have explained that it is by the book, but since that book is the Bible, it's okay.  That the rituals are not dusty, but are part of the very breath of life that the Spirit breathes into the Church.  That if even the first covenant showed us something of heaven, the regulations for the new worship ushered in by Christ put us in a position to touch heaven itself, even while we wait for the fullness of things to come.

*Please note that I am not a Scripture scholar, I do not know Greek, Hebrew or Latin.  I don't know the ins and outs of exegesis (I don't even know exactly what that word means, only that Scripture scholars do it).  These are my personal thoughts and are not authoritative in any way, though I my thoughts have been influenced by reading Scripture scholars, so I'm not totally making it up, either.
**I find a lot of these different translations at  If you're not familiar with all the different versions, don't worry about it.  Stick with the one that you've got.  They're all going to be very similar, but sometimes it's interesting to look at different nuances if you're nerdy and into that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

An Overview

This is for anyone that might be interested in a brief overview of my trip (especially pictures!), but not want all the gory details.  Then you can forever skip any other posts about my vacation!

Okay, here goes.  Just remember that my sisters and I have some weird form of vacation ADHD that requires us to be on the move at all times and seeing as much as we can.

After the wedding, we started with a trip to the Garden of the Gods in Colorado Springs:

The Kissing Camels

Pike's Peak from the Visitor's Center

A side view of the Siamese Twins

Pike's Peak from between the Siamese Twins
After a brief stop by Royal Gorge:

we drove by way of "The Million Dollar Highway":

to southwest Colorado:

The next day we checked out the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde:

The Cliff Palace

A more typical cliff dwelling

The cliff dwellers' backyard

Then drove  through northern Arizona:

with a stop by The Four Corners monument. (Sorry, no pics.  Not that there was much to see.)
At the Grand Canyon, we walked 10 miles along the South Rim:

We also stopped at the Watchtower:

The next day, my non-acrophobic sister and I hiked a mile and a half and 1,100 feet down into the Canyon on the South Kaibab trail:

Then we left for Utah by way of Monument Valley:

to Arches National Park, where we spent the night and hiked the next day to a number of the more famous arches:

Landscape Arch

Sandstone Arch

Of course, Delicate Arch

That night (Thursday) we stopped at a hotel for the afternoon and evening, then we took off for Hanging Lake and Spouting Rock (back in Colorado):

Then went to Rocky Mountain National Park, where we hiked to Emerald Lake:

And to the top of Deer Mountain (not my favorite hike):

Then we came home.  The end.

Boyd Would Like to Say Hello