Archive for March, 2011|Monthly archive page

Community Matters

In Catholic, Christianity on March 28, 2011 at 8:55 am

Today I was reviewing my notes from the silent retreat I made at Ignatius House (Atlanta, GA) in February. This retreat was a three-day review of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Retreatants arrive and settle-in on Thursday night, and remain there through Sunday lunch. Silence is the gift retreatants give each other, permitting each to listen more intently to the gentle whisper of God (1 Kings 19:11-13).

On Friday night, 24 hours into our retreat, I spent time in the company others reading silently in the library.  Community matters, even in silence. Given our shared purpose of drawing closer to Christ during the weekend, there was a palpable sense of support from others without a word being spoken. Brief eye contact, a nod, or a quiet smile was all that was necessary and was fully understood.

Community always matters—and it matters even more, perhaps, when the noise of the world around us causes us to withdraw into ourselves. A torrent of words sweeps over us daily in simulated community: “So good to see you!” “How are you?” “Let’s all join in . . . (song, prayer, sharing).” Yet real community as the Body of Christ—seeking the graces of Christ—may be lost in social ritual, or lively Christian “fellowship.”

This is one reason I’m thankful for the communal prayers of the Church. Catholic Christians don’t pray the same prayers repeatedly out of lack of imagination. We pray from a fixed repertoire of public prayers so that all can participate.  Whether it is in simple thanks before meals, “Bless us, O Lord, in these Thy gifts,” or “Our Father” of The Lord’s Prayer, or the more extensive Liturgy of the Hours, community is always in mind. For this reason, Catholic Christians often use plural pronouns even when praying alone. “Bless us.” “Our Father.” “Forgive us our trespasses.” “Pray for us sinners.” “Bless the work we have begun.”

This sense of community is a good thing; a blessed reminder that in Christ we are one. Our identification with others parallels Christ’s identification with us—solidarity. So, let us not skip lightly over the the “we,” “us,” and “our” in communal prayer. And let us not abandon these signposts of community in personal prayer.  Community matters! It is a fundamental part of Christianity Richly.

The Best Preparation

In Catholic, Christianity on March 24, 2011 at 8:37 am

What is the best preparation for becoming a Catholic Christian?  One might answer, “The combination of Catholic schools and catechesis that existed in the U.S. during the first six decades of the twentieth century.” And certainly this system resulted in strong formation of young people who became Godly, productive Christian adults.

But I would argue for a second path—and one that may be followed more frequently in the twenty-first century: conversion of well-studied evangelicals, and even fundamentalists. How might one support this assertion?

Once a student of the Bible sees the scriptural basis for “the one, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic Church,” then the depth of that person’s Bible knowledge and the seriousness of their struggle for sanctity become strong anchors in the Church. Even anti-creedal Christians don’t ignore Ephesians 4:5—”One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” They just say that true Church is invisible.

So, when a Christian seeking authority, sacramental grace, transcendent worship, aids to holiness, and biblical unity arrives at the door of the Church founded by Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:15-19), only a short step remains to cross the threshold. That step usually involves overcoming a lack of information, or misinformation, about the Church.

For example, most evangelical or fundamental Christians don’t realize that their baptism—if performed with water, and in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—is regarded as valid by the Church, not to be repeated. That would not be true for a Catholic Christian entering some protestant assemblies. One might ask which group takes the scriptures more seriously?  But the point is not to be contentious. The point is to get beyond caricatures of each other.

All Christians should rejoice in the many fine schools and religious assemblies that continued to teach God’s Word faithfully during the decades of infatuation with modernism. I regret the misunderstandings I was taught in such places, about the Church, but I trust those who taught misinformation honestly imagined it to be true, even while I wish they had more adequately investigated their assertions. But we only know what we have been taught—and perhaps nothing ever challenged them to question their lifelong denominational affiliation.

Are you uncomfortable with your present Christian experience? The best preparation for your next steps may have been from the least likely starting point. “Seek, and you shall find”¹ . . . the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church: Christianity Richly.

¹ Luke 11:9-13

Why Be Catholic?

In Catholic, Christianity on March 23, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Often, since becoming a Catholic Christian, I am asked, “Why? Why did you do it?” To answer that question, I began this blog.  See About, particularly the links on certainty, history, unity, authority, and liturgy.

Those five reasons continue to be important. However, now that I am inside the Church, rather than looking in from outside, those reasons look more like inviting welcome mats, placed before the Door. They are valid and objective. They point to the good, true, and beautiful. But they fall short of the richly-hued experience one actually encounters across the threshold, inside Christ’s Church.

Pope Benedict XVI used a better analogy during his 2008 visit to the U.S. He said the experience (and answering the question, “Why be Catholic?”) is like viewing the windows of a cathedral from outside, where they may appear indistinct or even dark.  It is not until one goes inside that the richness, and beauty, and Gospel narrative of the windows is clear, illuminated by the Light.

Then, why be Catholic? Unquestionably the starting point is grace given. Protestants and Catholics differ on the number and nature of the Sacraments. But understanding the nature of the Sacraments is fundamental to seeing the richness available to all who come into Christ’s Church. The Sacraments are not memorials, public professions, or religious rituals. “Christ . . . acts through the Sacraments He instituted to communicate His grace. The Sacraments are perceptible signs (words and actions) accessible to our human nature.  By the action of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit they make present . . . the grace they signify.”¹

So the first answer to “Why be Catholic?” is grace given, for life and eternity. Why would anyone cut-off himself or herself from the power of God offered in the Sacraments? The only reason would be failure to understand something really happens in Baptism, Confirmation, receiving the Eucharist, Confession and Penance, Anointing of the Sick, Marriage, and Holy Orders. But we only know what we have been taught and misinformation about the Church is plentiful.

If the Sacraments are only rituals, then one ecclesial community’s rituals are as good as another’s. But if they are the means through which Christ communicates grace, as scripture and the Church teach, then don’t walk—run to receive them:  supernatural salvation, gifts for ministry, food for the journey, forgiveness and reconciliation, healing, strength for lifelong commitment, and sacred power for service!

That is Christianity Richly.

¹ Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1084.

Gospel in Glass: The Women & The Apostle John

In Christianity on March 13, 2011 at 4:02 am

Having established that the person at the foot of Christ’s cross is Mary Magdalene, let’s survey the remaining figures, saving attention for Our Lord’s Mother until later.

Various women are represented in the window. In addition to Mary Magdalene, there are figures who must include Mary’s sister and Mary the wife of Clopas, all mentioned in John 19:25. Mark 15:40 mentions Salome. Matthew’s Gospel adds, “There were many women there, looking on from a distance” (Matthew 27:55). Luke adds, while Simon the Cyrene was carrying Our Savior’s cross, the followers included “many women who mourned and lamented Him.”  Would we have followed, mourning and lamenting, or would we have run?

There is no key in the iconography to distinguish one from the other, unless we assume the sister of our Lord’s Mother would stand nearest her.   We cannot identify more. Yet the window is faithful to Matthew’s record: “Many women . . . followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to Him.”

In addition to the women, in the background, to the right, we see the centurion who exclaimed, “Truly, this was the Son of God!” (Matthew 27:54) and, in Luke’s account, “this man was innocent beyond doubt” (Luke 23:47).

Finally, we see the Apostle John on the right, dressed in green, “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 19:26). It was to St. John and to His Mother that our Lord addressed His final, tender instructions: “When Jesus saw his Mother and the disciple there whom He loved, He said to his Mother, ‘Woman, behold your son.’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your Mother’” — given to the disciple and to the Church.  Given to us!

Christianity . . . Richly!

Back to The Gospel in Glass

In Christianity on March 9, 2011 at 5:46 pm

Back in August, I began a series, Gospel in Glass — examining the figures and images presented in the altar window at St. Mary’s Church (Greenville, SC). For more than a century, this “Gospel in Glass” has offered worshippers an opportunity to meditate on Our Lord’s Passion. Let’s return to the window, with thanks and praise to Jesus Christ, the central figure.

Earlier posts suggested how to “read” the window, and begin with the paving stones at the very bottom of the scene. The next posts were about St. Mary Magdalene, prominently shown in the window (see here and here).

Much remains to be written about other figures in the window, most of all, Our Savior.  But while anticipating that, one of the first things a viewer notices in all of the windows at St. Mary’s is a charming anachronism: the image in each window is framed by The Church — not St. Mary’s, but a large, stone Cathedral, in which each scene is set.

The interpretation is not difficult. In God’s eternal plan, He foreordained that Christ would give His life for us, establishing His Church, and nothing will ever prevail against His glorious work (Matthew 6:18). Thus, all of salvation history is set in the context of The Church.

Thus, when we pray in The Liturgy of the Hours, “surround your people, Lord, within the safety of Your Church” (Tuesday, Week III, Evening Psalm-prayer), we see that prayer literally represented in the windows at St. Mary’s.  In praying this prayer, we are also praying for all Christians. There is “one Lord, one faith, and one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6).

The Gospel in Glass shows that unity:  God’s people, from the Old Testament to the New, surrounded within the safety of Christ’s Church.  May this cause us always to give thanks to Jesus Christ, the Church’s One Foundation — anticipated and foreshadowed in the Old, and gloriously realized and established in the New.

Christianity Richly!

A Friend is Come . . . and I Have Nothing

In Christianity on March 7, 2011 at 5:38 pm

The photo is a sculpture of The Holy Family, located in the library at Ignatius House, Atlanta, GA.  If you have visited Christianity Richly before, you’ll have seen the photos taken at my December 2010 retreat.  However, you won’t have read much after that date.  Life during the following 60 days was filled with Christmas, New Year’s, and helping open a new business.

The time has come again to resume Christianity Richly. How I admire writers who have the discipline to produce something every day!  As a writer, I often feel like the man in Luke 11:6, who ran next door to borrow three loaves from a neighbor because, “A friend of mine is come . . . and I have nothing to set before him.”

May it not be so for the remainder of 2011. If you’ve seen something of God’s grace here at Christianity Richly in the past., then please ask Our Lord to give me the strength and perseverance to write in 2011. Your prayers will be much appreciated.

I pray not just have something to set before you, but in Christ’s abundance, something for you that nourishes richly!