Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140202

In the last issue of this article it was my desire to encourage my readers to make the reading of the New Testament an essential part of their lives. I suggest, in particular, the New Testament and, the Psalms from the Old Testament, because I believe they best help us to develop the spirituality that is coherent with our worship. While many suggest also the Old Testament, I find that they are more difficult to utilize especially when the intent is to find more ways in which to live in Christ. I would also suggest that a novice begin with the Gospels instead of the Epistles, with the exception of the three Epistles of St. John. The letters of Paul are a little more difficult to understand and, therefore, may not be as easily used to bring us to prayer.

A priest at Gonzaga University in Spokane has developed a helpful scheme for learning to pray with scripture which he calls the Five P’s. I think that he offers good hints for using the Scriptures for prayer.

The first “P” stands for Pick A Passage. There are ways of finding a good passage for prayer. One way is to read one of the gospels, beginning with chapter one, verse one, and using just a few lines until we come to a resting place, a passage that captures our attention, or seems to speak to us. Put a marker there. The next day continue from where you left off.

One of the saints found that by just flipping open the Gospels randomly and pointing at a passage was even more inspirational for using the Gospels as a source of our prayer.

My suggestion is to try several different ways to pick a passage to reflect on. Believe in the Holy Spirit. He will guide you in your desire to spiritually grow and bring you to the right text. This is a simple way to help build your trust and hope in God. Believe that He will guide you in your honest efforts to become more united to Him.

The main thing is to not pick too big of a passage. One verse or a couple of verses are enough. Then, simply read the verse(s) and ask yourself this question: What can I derive from this passage that will help me lead my life today? If it is a story, ask yourself: What can this story tell me about life (e.g., if it is about curing a blind man, what blind spots do you have in your life? Prejudice?) Don’t think about what the correct interpretation of the story is. Think about how you can relate the story to your own life, right now! That’s what is important!

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140202

In the canon, that is the actual writings that are accepted as inspired and a part of the New Testament, the thirteen letters attributed to Paul are basically organized according to two principles: (1) the letters addressed to communities, whether they were established by him or not; and (2) to individuals. Within each of these categories, the letters are arranged in     descending order of length, from the longest to shortest. The one exception is the Letter to the Galatians. It comes before Ephesians, even though the latter is about two hundred words longer.

It is interesting that the Fathers of the Church used length as one criteria when establishing the Canon which also includes the order in which the writings are always presented.

If the letters of Paul are presented in a chronological order, the canon looks much different, as originally pointed out. If you would like to get a different perspective on Paul’s message, read his letters in the Chronological order. These seven were written before the Gospels: 1 Thessalonians; 1 and 2 Galatians; Corinthians; Philemon; Philippians; and Romans.

I would suggest, therefore, that any one desirous of studying the New Testament begin with these seven letters and then approach the Gospels and the remaining letters that are attributed to St. Paul. It does give you a new perspective of the Gospel message.

The first Christian document to be written, then, is Paul’s letter to a Christ-community in Thessalonica, the capital city of Macedonia, a province in northern Greece. It was written around the year 50, possibly a year or two earlier. Somewhat surprisingly, given the Jesus movement’s origin among the Jews in the Jewish homeland, the earliest Christian document is written to a    community in Europe, which was largely Gentile. The letter was written in Greek.

Meanwhile, the apostles and disciples where preaching to Jews in the Diaspora as well as the homeland. They were not, however, writing things down yet since people who knew Jesus were still alive and relating stories about Jesus to those who wanted to listen. They saw no reason, at that point in time, to write things down. They were busy sharing the Good News. They had the writings of the Old Testament, which were considered sacred. They had no intention, at that time, of replacing the Torah and books of the Jews. They used the Psalms in their worship. The idea of a separate religion from Judaism was yet to emerge. It was Paul’s reflection on the teaching of Jesus and its ramifications for living that began directing the movement in the direction of a new, reformed Abrahamic religion. Christianity is one of three “Abrahamic Religions” – Each now has its own BOOK.

Learning Our Faith from the Church Fathers / St. Gregory of Nyssa – 201400202

As I shared in the last issue of this article, there is a great difference between the East and West with regards to the “Fall” of mankind that is recorded in Genesis. Indeed, according to one Eastern Christian author, the view in the East differs from the West in several crucial respects. In opposition to the Western anthropology, influence by Augustine’s sharp polemics against Pelagius, the Eastern view of human beings and the Fall is critical of the understanding of original sin and its influences: (1) as inherited guilt; (2) as total destruction of God’s image in the human being; (3) as a sin of nature and not a personal sin of Adam and Eve; and (4) as legalistic relations of human beings with God and salvation based on Christ’s death as satisfaction of divine justice.

In the East, the cross of Christ is envisaged not so much as the punishment of the just one, which satisfies transcendent Justice requiring a retribution for the sins of human beings. Rather, the death of the Cross was effective, not as the death of an Innocent One, but as the death of the Incarnate Lord. The point was not to satisfy a legal requirement, but to vanquish death. God alone is able to vanquish death, because he alone has immortality. It is truly noteworthy that Eastern theology never produced any significant elaboration of the Pauline doctrine of justification. Even the commentaries on Romans and Galatians by the Fathers generally interpreted passages such as Galatians 3:13 (take time to look this up – to do this helps with becoming a vibrant Christian – another Bulletin article) as victory over death and sanctification of life. Understandably, the Eastern Fathers also never developed the theory of  satisfaction along the lines of Anselm’s theory.

You will recall, hopefully, that in the West the two great theories that developed were justification and satisfaction, especially among those who broke from the Roman Church – known as Protestants. Of course the West does not seem to have grasped the idea of Theosis which, I believe, is the foundation of taking this different approach to the work of God through Jesus Christ (the Cross).

   St Gregory of Nazianzus taught that God’s voluntary assumption, in the Person of Jesus, of human mortality was an act of God’s condescension by which he united to himself the whole of  humanity. He also taught that What is not assumed is not healed and what is united to God is saved. Therefore we needed a God made flesh and put to death in order that we could live again. One of the preferred images of the effects of Christ’s death in the Christian East has been medical: the cross is an antidote to the poison of corruptibility and sin.

The Spirituality of the Christian East – 20140202

The theme of the imitation of Christ occupies an important place in the history of spirituality, even though in their reaction to medieval    piety, the Reformers in the West replaced the concept of imitation, which they viewed as an arrogant human effort, with a following of Christ in response to his call.

One Eastern Christian writer has said that in the spiritual life of the Eastern Church, the way of the imitation of Christ is never practiced. Indeed this way seems to have a certain lack of fullness. It would seem to imply a somewhat external attitude toward Christ. Rather, it was his belief that Eastern spirituality may instead be defined as a life in Christ. While this may seem like just an exercise in semantics, when you consider this closely you can understand the subtle difference. It is the true spirituality of the Eastern Church that we followers should live our lives in Him. That is why, at our initiation into the Church, we sing: All you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. We are called to live in Christ.

Indeed, unlike the Greek world, which attached great importance to imitation in its philosophic reflection (Plato) or in its pedagogy (the attractive value of the example), Scripture seems to ignore the virtue of imitation. In fact, this concept is viewed from quite a different perspective: as ancient nomads, the Hebrews preferred the theme of the way, the road. Man must walk in Yahweh’s footsteps.

This reminds us that our culture greatly influences how we look at life and does influence even spirituality.  The theme of imitation is found in Pauline thought, but it seems to have been developed there mainly as an ethical ramification of a much more     fundamental principle, namely, the union of the believer with Christ, which is expressed especially by the formula in Christ (used approximately 165 times by Paul in his letters). Let us truly attempt to lead our lives in Christ.

Pastoral Prattle

With the Great Fast almost upon us, I have been thinking about what I could do in order to engage our membership in faith learning activities. In the past we tried to hold classes after our Friday evening   services. We have all come to realize that this doesn’t really work . . . by Friday evening we are all too tired to stay late. So my question is: What can we do to make the Great Fast truly a time of special learning?

I’m open to suggestions. I was going to try video podcasting but then realized that I would need more equipment than I have and would anyone watch a video if I prepared one?

What about scheduling a Day of Recollection? One day during the Great Fast.

Sunday January 26, 2014

blindmanThis weekend we finish our post-Pentecost sequence of readings. Next week we actually begin the five week sequence of pre-Lent commemorations and readings that deliver a clear message. The   message of these pre-Lent weeks pertain to the meaning of metanoia, that   process we are encouraged to engage in more intensely during the Great Fast. Metanoia deals with the process of changing our hearts and minds and opening them to God’s Spirit.

(It should be noted that frequently the word metanoia is translated in English as repentance. The English verb t0 repent or repentance does not fully connote the meaning of metanoia).

It is fortuitous, I believe, that this pre-Lent sequence is preceded by today’s readings. When you attempt to integrate the message conveyed by the Epistle and the Gospel and spiritually interpret the messages they convey, you see that they prepare us for the work of the five weeks before the Great Fast.

I believe that today’s readings exhort us to ask God to cure us of any spiritual blindness (the message of the Gospel) we might have so that we can truly believe this: God came into our world in the    Person of Jesus to save us, that is to show us how to live in order that we might experience the fullness of life and discern the true meaning and purpose of our earthly existence (the message of the Epistle). Hopefully we might join with the blind man and sincerely say with him: Lord, I want to see!

Paul, in his first letter to Timothy, which we use as our Epistle reading, writes: “You can depend on this as worthy of full acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”. (We are all, by the way, sinners not because we do dumb things and are weak but because our knowledge is still incomplete and we don’t totally understand the meaning and purpose of life).

As sinners, we tend to have certain spiritual blind spots. We don’t yet see the world as God sees it – as He intended it and us to be when He created us. Our human condition, which consists of not completely and truly knowing the meaning and purpose of life, is what makes us sinners. Life is given to us in order to help us learn why we have been called to this earthly existence.

The one wonderful thing is that our Creator-God understands this and has and is giving us all the various possible opportunities for spiritual grow.

Accept whole-heartedly the fact that God loves you and cares about you.

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Learning About the Practices of Our Religion – 20140126

In the fourth century, while Arians rallied around appropriate slogans such as ‘There was a time when he (the Son) was not’, the defenders of what was to be    defined as true doctrine were led by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, who adopted the term homoousios (of one substance) as the formula best suited to describe the relationship of the Son to the Father and to defend biblical faith in philosophical terms.

The Emperor could not allow the Church which he intended to be a unifying force within the Empire to be riven by doctrinal disputes. He convoked a Council of all the bishops      of the Empire at Nicaea in 325 and presided over its deliberations. Arius was condemned and Christ pronounced to be of one substance with the Father.

But the argument went on, and in the reaction against the adoption of the novel, non-biblical term homoousios the Arians seemed likely to win the day. Not until the 360s did it become clear that the Nicene party would succeed in their defense of the decision of 325. By then fresh disputes were raging over the status of the Holy Spirit, whom extreme Arians were treating as a created being, subordinate to both Father and Son. (You can guess that this, of course, led to the Eastern Church’s complete and total opposition to the Western Church’s addition of the Filioque to the Creed. The Eastern Church believed that this addition in, some way, reflected the belief that the Spirit was subordinate to both the Father and the Son). It was the three Cappadocian fathers, Basil the Great, his brother Gregory of Nyssa and Gregory of Nazianzus, whose Trinitarian teaching was approved at the Council of Constantinople in 381, clearly defining true Christian belief. God is one ousia, or substance, and three hypostaseis, or persons: The Father is God, the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God: yet there are not three Gods, but one God. It was an affirmation of faith demanded by the biblical revelation and the Christian experience of God. (Remember that monotheism – belief in one God – was seen as an advancement over the polytheism – many gods – that much of the known world believed existed).

These Trinitarian disputes left their permanent mark on Eastern worship, particularly in the doxologies with which liturgical prayers concluded. The early Christian tradition had been to pray to the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit. But this tradition had been cited by the Arians in support of their teaching that the Son was subordinate to the Father. Hopefully the picture is becoming clearer!supper_01

 

Getting to Know Something About Our Eastern Catholic Faith – 20140126

holywisdom   Around 850 east and west were still in full communion with one another and still formed one Church. Cultural and political divisions had combined to bring about an increasing estrangement, but there was no open schism. The two sides had different conceptions of Papal authority and recited the Creed in different forms, but these questions had not yet been brought fully into the open.

In 1190 Theodore Balsamon, Patriarch of Antioch and a great authority on Canon Law, looked at matters very differently:

 For many years [he does not say how many] the western Church has been divided in spiritual communion from the other four Patriarchates and has become alien to the eastern Church. So no Latin Christian should be given communion unless he first declares that he will abstain from the doctrines and customs that separate him from us, and that he will be subject to the Canons of the Church, in union with the Eastern Church.

   In Balsamon’s eyes, communion had been broken. There was a definite schism between east and west. The two no longer formed one visible Church.

But Nicolas (Patriarch of Rome) realized that Photius had submitted voluntarily to the inquiry by the Papal legates and that his action could not be taken as a recognition of Papal supremacy. This (among other reasons) was why Nicolas had cancelled his legates’ decisions. The Byzantines for their part were willing to allow appeals to Rome, but only under the specific         conditions laid down on of the Council of Sardica (343). This Canon states that a bishop, if under sentence of condemnation, can appeal to Rome, and the Pope, if he sees cause, can order a retrial; this retrial, however, is not to be conducted by the Pope himself at Rome, but by the bishops of the provinces adjacent to that of the condemned bishop. Nicolas, so the Byzantines felt, in reversing the decisions of his legates and demanding a retrial at Rome itself, was going far beyond the terms of this Canon. They regarded his behavior as an unwarrantable and uncanonical interference in the affairs of another Patriarchate. The basis for this attitude, you will recall, was how the early Church functioned. While each Church was in union with each other Church, there was no one Church that had supremacy over another. Consider that Peter and Paul, after their dispute about converting Gentiles, held a meeting of all the Apostles to solve the issue.

Being a Vibrant Parish – 20140126

Another means of practicing God’s presence daily is by opening His personal letter to us, the Bible, and     letting Him speak to us. The Bible has very aptly been called God’s personal love letter to us with a proposal for    marriage and an R.S.V.P.  You will recall that the    relationship between the Chosen People – the Jewish nation, was always described as a marriage between Yahweh and His people. God is the bridegroom and we are His bride. I realize that this approach to the relationship between God and humankind may not resonate as well in today’s world, especially when we think about the high divorce rate and the apparent inability of modern humans to truly enter into a meaningful and intimate relationship.

How much more real God’s presence can become if we allow Him to speak to us for a few moments each day. The secret is never to put the Bible away without taking a promise from it and claiming it for yourself. For example, Lord, You are my rock and my fortress (Psalm 31:3). Take this promise and say it to yourself two or three dozen times during the day. It will do something to you. If you say it until your conscious mind accepts it, until it sinks down into your unconscious being, you will become aware that God is a real and living presence in your life. As you know, this is the approach of the Jesus prayer and of the Mantra that eastern religions in general suggest. Christianity learned from these religions and made these practices Christian. Never put the Bible away without memorizing at least one verse each day. Take it with you. Make it the controlling thought of the day. Return to it. Cling to it. Live with it all day. Reflect on it. Fall asleep with it at night. It is possible to carry the Bible around in your heart. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly (Colossians 3:16). We can keep our minds well stocked with beautiful thoughts from God’s word. They can become our daily companions bringing us strength, comfort and, truly inspiration when we need it. Those divine promises will come to our assistance when we need them. They will serve as life preservers when we find ourselves adrift and shipwrecked on the sea of life. When last have you picked up a Bible and read from it?

A Look at the New Testament – St. Paul – 20140126

Paul’s communities were not only small but deeply committed and intentional. To become part of one was a serious undertaking. Jesus had been condemned and executed by Rome.    Joining this movement meant risk – to call Jesus Lord and Son of God meant that the emperor was neither of these things. It meant becoming counter-cultural, rejecting the values of dominant culture and living in accord with another vision of how things should be. Paul referred to them as communities whose identity was in Christ and as the body of Christ. They were a new creation in the midst of this world that subverted this world.

The small size of these communities meant that they were intimate. Their members knew and were committed to taking care of each other. Paul’s frequent use of the language of brothers and sisters is not just affectionate. It is truly new family imagery. People who became part of one of his communities took on the same     responsibilities for each other that blood brothers and sisters had. In the first century urban context in which many had lost their blood families because of        migration and high mortality rates, this was a powerful image of community. It also meant that these were share communities: if you were part of this community, you would eat.

Paul’s relationship to urban Christian communities is the historical context of his letters. With one exception, the seven genuine letters of Paul were written to communities. The only one addressed to an individual is Philemon. But even it was to be read to the group of Christ-followers who gathered in his house. Again with one exception, the seven letters were written to communities Paul had founded and thus knew firsthand. The exception is Romans. When he wrote to the Christian community in Rome, he had not yet been there. But he planned to be, and Romans is to some extent an introduction to Paul’s way of seeing things for Christians whom he planned to visit.

From reading his letters, we find that the communities founded by Paul were sometimes conflicted, especially those in Galatia and Corinth. Though they were all committed to Jesus, they sometimes differed about what that meant. Some who were deeply conflicted wrote to Paul with questions.

His letters are correspondence in context – as all correspondence is. Letters are not meant for the world. They are meant for the person(s) to whom they are sent. They presuppose a relationship, a connection. And the context for understanding them is what we can know about that relationship.

The content of his letters, however, have great relevance for us today. We must think about what message he has for us who are now reading these letters in the 21st Century. They are relevant!