Thursday, August 25, 2016

Why We Must Question When People of Faith Admonish Others in Love

When church leaders purport to love others with an admonishing hand, we must call their worldview into question, contrasting it with the loving example of Jesus Christ.

"Keep alert, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love."
1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (NRSV)

Throughout the letter, Paul prompts the first century church at Corinth to follow the many reminders to love others and be faithful to Christ. Chapter 13, especially, instructs on selfless love that builds up others, and this theme is dominant throughout all 16 chapters.

Why, then, do many church leaders, both lay and ordained, cherry-pick this verse and use it as an excuse to hide their condemnation and hate of others? Paul is not giving license to leaders who want to admonish the marginalized. Paul is not providing a springboard for the church to hate on the LGBTQ community because they do not perfectly live within the confining walls of doctrine. Paul is not encouraging the church to "lovingly admonish" others to conform to its rules and dogmas. Instead, the opposite is at work in Paul. He says that we need to be faithful, loving servants of Christ, and he emphatically iterates that our lives should reflect this in all that we do. In that service, moreover, we are to build up others, not tear them down, even when their broken lives are something we cannot understand. After all, when we examine our own lives, we are equally broken and in need of Christ's loving repair.

Let us follow the plain words of Scripture: "Let all that you do be done in love."

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

When We realize that Our Position on an Issue is not the Only One: A Lesson in Humility

When we realize that our position is not the only one, we must take a bite of humble pie. #Apology is a step toward #humility.

Let me first apologize for voicing my prior concern, and I thank you for taking the time to write me back.  Words' emphases matter and make a significant difference in the message they convey. And you are right: In faith, we can't say heaven is a sure thing. This is a presumptive statement that imagines God’s forgiveness without our cooperation, repentance, and response in love.
Believe it or not, I have spent a significant amount of time in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, studying it from cover-to-cover over the past year. This does not, however, make me an expert or even a novice, and it is a document, as you suggest, that needs constant re-reading. Thanks for the reminder. Currently, I am studying the YOUCAT, which is a clear, youth-focused version of the catechism penned by Christoph Cardinal Schoenborn, and I am loving it.
My perspective on the doctrine of grace comes from the Church’s teaching and is rooted in a fresh ecumenical perspective outlined in a document called Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification.” This document states the following ecumenical agreement between Lutherans and Catholics regarding justification:
In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works. (15)
The document was written and agreed upon in 1999 by the Catholic Church's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Lutheran World Federation. I love its ecumenical scope and how it reconciles Catholic and Lutheran perspectives on grace without changing our teachings. It only presents a new attitude and fresh perspective.

Please accept my apology for taking too much time and typing too many words on this issue. And I am sorry for questioning your message, especially since I misheard several key words. As you know, I love the Lord and his church and take matters of faith to heart. Thank you for making us all laugh and think about our role as witnesses to Christ.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Why we Must Listen to our Conscience and Question Authority

When church leaders present wrong attitudes, we must speak up. My reaction to one leader's take on ‪#‎grace‬ and ‪#‎salvation‬:
I want to first thank you for reminding me that we are called to love in imitation of Christ’s love and for noting that we are all called to cooperate with the free gift of God’s grace. My concern, however, is when you asked us to raise our hands if we thought were going to heaven. After this, you stated that those of us who raised our hands were guilty of a “sin of perdition,” which I assume you meant the sin of pride or predilection. Although I am sure it was unintentional, your homily presented a misguided teaching on salvation.
The Catholic Church teaches that both justification and sanctification are intertwined, but in every statement found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church [1987-2021], our faith in Jesus’ atonement on the cross and the unmerited power of God’s grace are what justify us, not anything we do [Ephesians 2:8-9]. Through this justification we are made heirs to the heavenly kingdom [Romans 8:14-17]. We are saved through our faith in Christ; this truth runs the entire arc of Scripture, from the fall in Genesis through the New Jerusalem in Revelation. It is the foundational statement that the New Testament authors argue.
When you said, and I paraphrase, no one can say they are going to heaven, you implied that we are not heirs to the kingdom through our baptism and faith in Christ’s death and resurrection. And to expand on this concept, you added that everyone who, in faith, claimed to be an heir to the kingdom was guilty of serious sin. According to Scripture and Tradition this is false.
Sanctification, cooperating with the grace of the Holy Spirit, follows justification and is where we can lose the gift of eternal life in Christ. Scripture teaches this and Tradition confirms it. But first, through our faith in Christ, we are saved, made right with God. There is nothing we can do to achieve this. The entirety of Scripture proves it, and it is why God became incarnate in Christ. Each one of us, through our baptism and faith in Christ, is promised eternal life in him, and we are called to live out that new life in love. If we fail to love the best we can in our situations, then we jeopardize that unmerited gift of eternal life. None of us deserves heaven, even the most pious saint, but God gives it to us freely, unmerited, through the cross and our faith lived out in love. The end of your homily pointed to the responsibility of love, but the beginning of your message implied a tone of condemnation and works-based salvation.
An alternate question might be: “How many of us reflect enough love in our lives to warrant the gift of eternal life, the gift God promises us through our faith in Christ?” This question does not pass judgment nor does it imply that we can do anything to earn our salvation. But in it is the heart of what I believe you were trying to say: As faithful Christians, our lives must reflect genuine love for God and others. Otherwise, we can’t call ourselves Christians and will come to find the narrow door to the kingdom closed.
Is it fair, then, to say that we are going to heaven? Maybe not. But when we answer, “I hope to go to heaven,” we imply that we have to work for it, which is false and gives Catholics an inaccurate reputation among other brothers and sisters in Christ. The better answer is that, through faith and our baptism, we are promised heaven and are heirs to the kingdom through the blood of Christ and the love of God. Whether we live out that promise is up to us. We must cooperate with God’s grace through love. And in that cooperation, which we are given ample grace to live out, all will live eternally in the heavenly kingdom.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

How I See My Political and Religious Views

I believe in loving God and neighbor. My neighbor includes all who are regularly rejected by the narrow-mindedness of hate. This narrow-minded, hate-filled view is regularly masked under the cloak of "love and truth" by many religious institutions and political leaders. Love can never be associated with the rejection, ostracization, and condemnation of the marginalized. And we are all marginalized by sin.

I love all of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and believe they should be given equal opportunity for lifelong unions, and although those unions may not live up to the biblical ideal, they should be respected and treated with love, not condemned.

I love people of other faiths, knowing that we are all united by one loving Creator who calls us to love him and each other. And I love all people of good will who, in their search for truth, realize a love for neighbor and try their best to live out a life of hope.

I believe that abortion is wrong and am against it, but I also realize that God gives us free will. Society should, however, do everything in its power to promote life. It is my hope and prayer that all women, and the men responsible for creating the child, choose life and love. Abortion is ugly and heartbreaking, but rather than society's religious institutions screaming about its evil nature, we should implement and support social teachings and services that promote mother/child health, give loving life options to unwed moms, and do everything we can to help pregnant women choose life for their children. Condemnation and exclusion are unacceptable; women need hope and love, healing and help. I am always praying for all moms (and dads) to choose life for their unborn children.

I believe we are all one church on pilgrimage, and on that pilgrimage we will make mistakes, even those institutions that claim absolute truth. As is revealed by history, one religious institution does not contain the unflawed truth as revealed by Jesus Christ. Many traditions get things right and wrong. All faithful, baptized Christians are part of one Body of Christ and indwelled by the Holy Spirit. One thing, however, we must get right is our love for God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves.

I believe in voting in good conscience and not through the coercion of religious leadership or bi-partisan political bias and spin. I reject partisan politics and am unaffiliated with any specific party. If I have to define my political position, then I am a moderate and "left of center" on some issues.

Six Reminders of Why I Need to be Humbled -- Psalm 37:1-11

Psalm 37:1-11

Throughout Psalm 37:1-11, I am reminded of the importance of love, trust in God, humility, and self-sacrifice. And the beautiful reminders in this Psalm bring a stark contrast to many areas of my life, areas where I need Christ’s renewal.

“Trust in the Lord and do good . . .” (3)
Do I wholly trust in God? I like to think that I do, but there are times when I become impatient and frustrated with matters of faith, and it is in those times that I need to trust God more. I am incapable of solving my own inner turmoil. This is something that only God can do, but I am called to cooperate in faith, and that faith is reflected in trust. To ”do good” cannot be an empty commitment made through a legalistic mindset: I am going to raise money for this because it is what a good Christian should do. This is works-based salvation, and there is nothing I can do to save myself. Jesus did that on the cross. Doing good, instead, means offering up the small moments of my day to my family and the person in front of me, loving others in the ordinary things. But this, too, can be a struggle, especially when self-will, laziness, and pride play a part.

“Take delight in the Lord . . .” (4)
Am I a joyful witness to the love of God? At times, I can be, but I have a tendency to be irritable and get angry about my faith tradition's beliefs for which I do not agree. Taking delight means dismissing these disagreements, which are non-essential, and trusting in Christ’s love for me, trusting in the gospel message. Through trust and commitment to God, irritation and anger are eclipsed by love and joy. And living a life of joy in Christ is detrimental to drawing others to Christ. By taking delight in the Gospel, I call others’ attention to the love of Jesus Christ.

“Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him . . .” (5)
This piggybacks on verse 3 above, but in this verse, commitment in key. Have I committed every part of my life to Jesus Christ? Yes! But in that commitment, I need renewal. I am flawed, fall into sin, and lose focus on God. Commitment and trust, then, come into question when I make poor choices, focus on negativity, and become self-absorbed. Through God’s word, prayer, and community, I am reminded of and renewed in God’s love. Commitment and trust in God, for me, is more a cycle of “two-steps-forward-one-step-back”; they are a renewal process, a testing ground of faith.

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him . . .” (7)
Prayer for me can be a litany of petitions and intercessions. But am I listening? Are there moments of stillness before God who is with me in prayer? Sometimes. God’s voice, that still small voice within, is waiting to be heard if I commit myself to stillness, patiently listening for the movement of the Holy Spirit. This in itself is a grace. There are times, however, when I rush through prayer and miss the moments of listening. With God (and with others, too), I need to listen more and speak less.

“Refrain from anger; do not fret -- it only leads to evil . . .” (8)
In matters of doctrine and dogma, I often get angry. As mentioned above, I take issue with many of the beliefs in my faith tradition. And my issues are not ill-informed ones. I have studied, prayed, and sought counsel regarding these issues. That there is no answer besides living within my conscience, I become angry, bitter, and fretful when confronted with teachings that I question. This anger and fret have caused mounting frustration and cultivated a field of bitterness. In order to combat the anger and fret, I have stopped studying and exposing myself to the issues that bother me, burying my head in the sand, so to speak. It is important to my family that I remain in our faith tradition, so I am trusting in God to lead me. A significant part of me wants to find a new faith tradition, one that is more in touch with people today, more accepting, more loving, more forgiving, more welcoming. But as I have been struggling with this for several years now, I have discovered that this is not about making me happy. It is about loving others more than myself, and that I have to carry the cross here, putting their needs before mine. God is telling me that his love is universal, that he knows my struggles, and that part of recreating me is through my cooperation with his call to self-sacrifice. When I become preoccupied with anger and fret over the issues, therefore, I lose focus on what really matters: I must love and trust in God above all things and offer self-sacrificial love to others.

“The meek shall inherit the land . . .” (11)

This is not only a foreshadowing of Jesus’ beatific words expressed on the mount (see Matthew 5:5), but meekness, or humility, is the antithesis of pride. If the meek shall inherit the land, then the pride-filled shall lose it. I pray for humility, and God has answered this prayer many times. But in the often-ignored nooks and crannies of my life, pride hides itself, masquerading as the light of logic and reason. Thinking through problems is necessary for survival in our world. When reason becomes the antagonist of humility, kindness, sacrifice, and love, reason is puffed-up and no longer reasonable. The Scriptures repeatedly contrast the virtues of humility with the iniquities of pride, and in every instance, the meek are blessed.

Monday, August 15, 2016

How God Answers our Temptations with Grace

1 Corinthians 10:13 (RSV): Endurance and Strength through Faith

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In my winter jacket, I placed an index card with this Scripture handwritten on it. It is one of those verses that I try to memorize, for life is a difficult road full of setbacks and hurdles. Paul’s reminder provides the spiritual vision that I more often fail to have. This verse reveals that the challenges in life are really God’s love working through me, building me up as a better witness in the world. And believe me, I need a lot of building up.

In 1 Corinthians 10, Paul issues one of his famous passages that functions as a grave reminder. He suggests that the sins of the ancient Israelites (idolatry, immorality, complaining, testing God) function as instructive examples: “These things happened to them to serve as an example, and they were written down to instruct us . . .” (1 Corinthians 10: 11). In effect, Paul reminds the church that temptation will come, but in that temptation, whatever it may be, they are given God’s grace to both endure and escape it. Paul’s reminder implies, however, that they must have faith in God and abandon their own self-serving attitudes.

Two millennia later, our world is no different. Paul’s reminder applies to us, too. If we look around, whether in our own lives or in the reflection of the world, we can see plenty of idolatry, immorality, complaining, and ignoring God. The temptations to be self-consumed meet us in every facet of our lives. It is how we approach those moments of temptation that determine our victory or defeat. If we remember God’s faithful love, we endure and escape the temptation, and in that moment, we grow as disciples. But the world is a cruel place, and the noise of modernity is loud. It takes effort and faith to plow past the numbing noise of the world. But in God’s word, we are promised deliverance through faith in Christ.

One day, Dana (my wife for those who may not know) discovered the tattered index card that contained 1 Corinthians 10:13 as she was preparing to wash my jacket. As the intelligent, loving person she is, she questioned why I had a verse about temptation in my jacket. Was I involved in something that she should know about? I laughed alone, knowing that life’s challenges lurk in each moment. I carefully explained, and after a few moments we laughed together.

I pray that our faith be the leading factor in every challenge, knowing that God provides strength and escape in every temptation.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

When Scripture Cries out to Those who Destroy Innocence: Matthew 18:4-10

Matthew 18:4-10 (GNT)

"The greatest in the Kingdom of heaven is the one who humbles himself and becomes like this child. And whoever welcomes in my name one such child as this, welcomes me.

“If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. How terrible for the world that there are things that make people lose their faith! Such things will always happen—but how terrible for the one who causes them!

“See that you don't despise any of these little ones … your Father in heaven does not want any of these little ones to be lost."

The greatest in the kingdom of heaven is the humble, innocent child, Jesus says, and I believe him. We must all, therefore, become like children, humble and innocent in our hearts. Jesus even identifies directly with the child in saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child as this, welcomes me” (5). Christ is not only in the poor (Matthew 25:40); he is in the innocent, humble child, too.

We are called to be disciples of humble, dependent faith, the faith of a child. When our pride and ego get in the way, much like the disciples when they seek to be the greatest, we lose the true sense of selflessly loving God and neighbor.

I cannot read this passage without thinking of the horrifying harm that has been done to the many innocent children by pedophile priests. It is almost as if this Scripture cries out to the Church, especially those bishops who covered it all up in order to protect the institution while perpetuating harm to the innocent children (6).

Lord Jesus, help me to understand this difficult reality in our fallen world, how those who purport to represent you can destroy and victimize the innocent. Let me not judge, Lord, become bitter, or seethe in anger. Instead, employ me as an agent of your love and needed change in this world. Use me, Lord, as an agent of prayer for the abused, suffering, victimized, and surviving children. Amen

Monday, August 8, 2016

How We can Build a Quality Life in Christ

1 Corinthians 3:10-12 (GNT): Building a Quality Life

Using the gift that God gave me, I [Paul] did the work of an expert builder and laid the foundation, and someone else is building on it. But each of you must be careful how you build. For God has already placed Jesus Christ as the one and only foundation, and no other foundation can be laid. Some will use gold or silver or precious stones in building on the foundation; others will use wood or grass or straw.

In writing to an arrogant, sometimes wayward group of Corinthian Christians, Paul reminds them of their Christian duty with a familiar first-century Greek metaphor. Paul argues that they are to build up their lives on the foundation of Jesus Christ. What they build and how they build it, however, is of their free will. They can choose quality materials, “gold or silver or precious stones,” or shoddy materials, “wood or grass or straw.” The former is what Paul says is pleasing to God.

Paul's message, however figurative it may be, applies to us today, too.  We are not stonemasons, but we are the Body of Christ trying our best to imitate the love of Jesus in a sometimes-difficult-to-love world. And what Paul says to this first-century Greek audience, God intentionally says to us. We are all called to faithfully live out our Christian lives the best we can in the situations we are given.

Building metaphorically represents Christian living. Although we are not saved by anything we do, for it is Christ’s atonement and our faith in him that saves us, we are called to realize our faith through living lives of love, mercy, forgiveness, and compassion. We are Paul’s metaphoric builders, and it is our choice whether we are going to build a world of love or a world of mediocrity.

I pray that we all choose to build up our lives, and the lives of those we touch, with love, generosity, patience, mercy, and kindness.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

How our Biases can Blind us to Love: A Faithful Reaction to USCCB Blog: Faithful Witness to Marriage

USCCB Blog: Faithful Witness to Marriage: By Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz, Bishop Richard J. Malone and Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski Questions revolving around marriage and human ...

With all due respect to the Bishops who are charged with upholding Tradition, I wonder if in criticizing this public figure and same-sex unions they close off their hearts to the love that can be found in adult, monogamous, committed relationships outside of our Traditional understanding? Has tradition and church teaching imbibed us with a bias that blinds us to this expression of love? After the Fall, we exist in a flawed way, but in those flaws, grace continues to flow. We don't have to go far to see this in beatified people like Dorothy Day. After all, where love is, even in its less-than-perfect form, there we find God.

I pray that our understanding of all expressions of genuine love grow, so that we can appreciate, respect, and love one another equally in Christ despite the imperfections we all have.

Monday, August 1, 2016

How Jesus Christ Models Authentic Service

Matthew 14:13-14 (NRSV): Giving Ourselves Away

Now when Jesus heard [about the death of John the Baptist], he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

Being a person for others is a challenge to say the least. Serving others comes naturally  when we are in a good mood or at a place in life where service is convenient. But what about those times in our lives when we are emotionally spent, bereft of any energy and compassion? More often, humans turn in on themselves; it’s our nature. Jesus Christ, however, models authentic love of neighbor, even in the depths of his own personal suffering.

After learning about the death of John the Baptist, Jesus desires to retire to a secluded place where he can pray and commune with the Father. It is a somber time of grieving for Jesus, for he just lost a cousin and close friend. The crowds, however, learn of Jesus’ movements and follow him, seeking out his healing and desiring his presence. When Jesus arrives on shore at the “deserted place,” he notices the needy crowds. Jesus, being human, could react by asking the people to excuse him while he goes off to pray, gather his thoughts, and grieve his loss. Instead, he looks at them with “compassion” and gives himself away through “cur[ing] their sick.”

Throughout the gospels, Jesus models the perfect life of service. No matter the situation, even when Jesus grieves in loss, he offers himself to others, expecting nothing in return. The pinnacle example of this is his loving self sacrifice for each of us on the cross.

I lack much in this area, and although I try to be a good dad, husband, teacher, and neighbor, I find myself asking to be excused as I seek the comfort of solitude and personal space. Sure there are moments when I, too, have compassion and choose the path of service to others, but more often service is done with a tinge of reluctance or a feeling of obligation.

Jesus Christ reminds me, reminds us all, about the importance of giving ourselves away in love. It is a grace and something that can be a struggle most times, but through prayer and reflecting on God’s word, we can open ourselves up to God’s grace and become better versions of ourselves through imitating the loving selflessness of Jesus Christ. We, too, can emulate compassion and authenticity in offering ourselves in love to others, even when we pine for the peace of solitude.

I pray that we all choose loving compassion and service in the small corners of our lives.

May the peace and love of Christ be with you all.