Today we celebrate the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

There are many Ave Maria’s, and this one is one of my favorites. Ave Maria means Hail Mary. It’s taken from Luke 1:28.

If you’d like to read more about the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I recommend this link.

Miracle in the clouds

It was one of my first times on an airplane. Me and my daddy were flying to Oklahoma to visit his family. I was probably about six years old. I got the window seat, and was so excited as the plane took off. We went up to the clouds, and broke through them. I looked around, totally certain that I would see heaven. I fully expected to see pearly or golden gates, a wall and and maybe a castle. I looked and looked, and even tried to look out the windows on the other side. I couldn’t see it, and was very disappointed. It just didn’t make sense to me. I’d seen drawings in books, and it just resonated with me that I’d see heaven up there.heaven-in-the-clouds

So I told my dad that I didn’t understand why I couldn’t see heaven. He said something about how if people could see it, then we would have photographs of it and everybody would know about it. That made sense to me, but I was still disappointed. As years went by, the disappointment faded and was replaced with a sense of joy and thankfulness at having a very simple, innocent faith.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, on Friday, September 2, 2016. I’m sitting on an airplane, going to Oklahoma to visit family. We have taken off, and are heading up to the clouds. I think back to that memory of when I was a child, remembering how it was on a trip to Oklahoma that I thought I’d see heaven, and it makes me smile.

To pass the time, I brought a book to read. It’s called, “How Can I Get To Heaven,” by Robert Sungenis. I turn to where my bookmark is, page 34, where I read the following. I’ll bold the relevant parts:

“Paul prefaces each of these instances with ‘By faith Abraham…’ and the closes with the following statement in Hebrews 11:10: ‘For he was looking forward to the city whose architect and builder is God.'”

OK so now I’m a bit bewildered about the timing of this sentence and the memory I just had. I look out the window and we’ve broken through the clouds. The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful morning. Continuing to read, it says:

“Unlike the Genesis account which merely provides the rudimentary facts of Abraham’s faith, Paul penetrates into the mind and motivation of Abraham, making us privy to an insight we would never have have gleaned from the Genesis account alone. We learn an astounding truth. We discover that Abraham did not just blindly obey; rather, he had a vivid vision of the future heavenly kingdom and of the whole plan and purpose of God’s dealing with him.

OK, there’s that idea again, a vision of a heavenly kingdom. It occurs to me that maybe God has orchestrated what I’m reading at this moment, and I get a little teary. I keep reading:

Abraham’s vision anticipated not merely owning a piece of land on earth, but also his ultimate entry in heaven in the future, ‘a city whose architect and builder is God.’ What kind of faith is is required to envision one’s entrance into the heavenly kingdom for eternity? Surely more than some crude or rudimentary understanding; rather, it is a faith that comprehends the whole purpose and meaning of existence, and that trusts God implicitly for its eventually fulfillment. According to Paul, Christians possess this same faith, since he says in Hebrews 13:14, ‘for here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.'”

I’ve got some serious tears in my eyes at this point, to the point where I don’t want anybody to notice. I put the book down in my lap with the cover up.

how-can-i-get-to-heaven-book-cover

I glance down at it, and notice something that I had not seen before: the sunlight peeking over the clouds. See it?

I was so full of emotion at this point that it was hard to take it all in. God orchestrated this moment to let me know that he remembered my simple faith and he was there with me and my dad. I felt very strongly how much he loves me, how he sees everything and remembers everything, all my pain, sorrow, and prayers. He sees all; nothing escapes his observation, and there will be an accounting, for everything.

The night before, while I was packing, I had intended to pack the book in my underseater bag but ran out of room. So I left it on my nightstand. As I was almost walking out the door the next morning to go to the airport, I felt very strongly a sense that I should bring it, and I almost resisted the feeling since I would have to put the book in my purse and I didn’t want to do that. I was in a cult for 22 years, so I know very well how easy it is to be deceived by promptings and thoughts that seem OK but are not. So unfortunately, my first reaction to such promptings is suspicion. It has been difficult o allow myself to be led by the Holy Spirit. But I decided to listen to the prompting and bring the book. I’m glad I did.

Another thing I love about being Catholic

Here’s another thing I love about being Catholic: all the heavy lifting has been done for me. I am not responsible for establishing the faith, I am not responsible for interpreting the Bible for myself or anybody else, and I am not responsible for determining what constitutes the Bible. This is because there is a Deposit of Faith that was “once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). It can be summed up thusly by Jesus himself: “My doctrine is not mine, but him who sent me.” (John 7:16).

EWTN has a great summary of this Deposit. I added hyperlinks to the scripture references:

“St. Paul uses the Greek word ‘paratheke,’ ‘deposit,’ meaning something precious entrusted to a depositary for safekeeping. He means by it not an inert object like gold or diamonds or a sum placed in the trust department of a bank, but a living body of doctrine. O Timothy, guard the “paratheke,” the ‘deposit’ (1 Tim. 6:20). This urgent appeal of the Apostle to his Successor is not only thematic for the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ and their Epistles but also for the Gospels. The reason is the fact that this deposit is the doctrine and the teaching program which Jesus entrusted to his Apostles when he taught them, and mandated them to take it out to all nations (see Matt. 28:16-20). He entrusted it therefore also to their Successors, including the men of Holy Orders as a whole until his Second Coming at the end of the world. This concept of a priceless divine deposit entrusted to the teaching Church belongs to the New Testament as one of its principal themes.

“The origin of the deposit, then, is Jesus the Divine Teacher. It originated in his teaching of his Apostles, when he prepared them to carry his program forth to all nations. What is the value of the deposit? Unique and priceless. Jesus himself states it: ‘My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me’ (John 7:16). It is the Word of God, not diffused throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, but gathered into a brief teachable synthesis and summary by Jesus himself. It was a stroke of genius, humanly speaking, that Jesus made his revelation of the Three Divine Persons the pattern of this teachable summary of divine revelation. Jesus was preparing teachers in the age-old oral methods of mankind; printing, printed catechisms and printed textbooks were still fifteen centuries in the future…”

1 Cor 15:3 seems to echo John 7:16: “For I delivered unto you first of all, which I also received: how that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures…”

I want to learn about this Faith but I don’t have to figure it out as if to establish it. See the difference? It was already established a long time ago and so we enter into what has already been established. We are children of God, and it is His good pleasure to give us the Kingdom. treasure-box-2

The Church has been like a Christian treasure box for me, with so many wonderful things to discover. I don’t have to dig to get to them; I am not responsible for bringing them forth as if I was in labor. They are there for anybody to discover and enjoy.

It makes perfect sense that God would set it up this way.

The Bereans used the Septuagint

I know a lot more now about the history of the Bible than I used to. It amazes me at how much I took for granted before I became a Catholic. For example, it never occurred to me that perhaps I didn’t have a right to interpret the Bible however I saw fit, by virtue of the fact that I did not write it, codify it, or translate it. I treated the Bible as if it just grew on a tree. It was there, for sale in a bookstore, right? Wasn’t that all the permission I needed to buy one and determine for myself what it meant?

There was a brief time as a young adult when I thought of myself as a Berean. I remember being a bit prideful that I was “searching the scriptures” to see for myself if something is true (this was in the VERY early days of the cult, when it was still a fundamentalist Bible church).  The Bereans are the group of Jews who are lauded in the Bible for “searching the scriptures” to see if Paul and Silas were right. But I just realized something: the Bereans were almost certainly using the Septuagint. Here are the verses that mention them (Acts 17:10-12):

But the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea. Who, when they were come thither, went into the synagogue of the Jews.  Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, who received the word with all eagerness, daily searching the scriptures, whether these things were so. And many indeed of them believed, and of honourable women that were Gentiles, and of men not a few.

If I am correct then this is significant. The Septuagint contains the entire Old Testament canon… what I think of as the shared part (the part where Catholics and Protestants agree), as well as the seven Deutercanonical books, which Protestants reject as Apocryphal. I see now how naive I was to claim to be like a specific group of people when it comes to fidelity to the scriptures, yet I rejected some of the scriptures those people used.

There is nothing wrong with searching the scriptures, but as Jews, the Bereans had that right by virtue of their lineage. Imagine that same scenario but a group of idol-worshiping pagans instead of Jews. We might wonder why they were using those scriptures, since they had no historical connection to them. Does it make sense that they have the same right to use those scriptures as the Jews? Would they reach the same conclusions as the Jews? I am no longer certain that I had any right at all to use the Bible, since I had implicitly accepted the authority’s declaration regarding the canon, yet felt it was OK and even necessary to reject other authority claims. Maybe that’s OK, but as it looks to me right now, I have a problem with it because it seems contradictory. As a Protestant, was the Bible my book? If so, on what basis?

Jesus did not ask for a New Testament

Jesus did not commission 26 of the New Testament books. At least, there is no record of him doing so. This gives us an opportunity to understand the role of tradition. Let’s do a thought experiment:

What if Jesus didn’t want 26 of the books in the New Testament? Where would that leave us? What would we need to rely upon in order to be saved?

For those who believe in “Bible alone,” they can’t just say, “Well, he must have wanted all of the New Testament.” They have to prove that from the Bible. For example, Luke 1:1-4 says:

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.

There is no mention of being commanded by Jesus to do this.

There is one exception: the book of Revelation. For example, in Revelation 1:10-19 John claims that Jesus commanded him to write what he had seen:

I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write in a book what you see and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus, to Smyrna, to Pergamum, to Thyatira, to Sardis, to Philadelphia, and to Laodicea.”

Then I turned to see whose voice it was that spoke to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands I saw one like the Son of Man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white as white wool, white as snow; his eyes were like a flame of fire, his feet were like burnished bronze, refined as in a furnace, and his voice was like the sound of many waters. In his right hand he held seven stars, and from his mouth came a sharp, two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining with full force.

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. But he placed his right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades. Now write what you have seen, what is, and what is to take place after this…”

There are a few other places in Revelation where John is specifically commanded to write, and one where he is commanded to not write. This strikes me as evidence that proves the rule. Based on Revelation, we know that Jesus could have explicitly commissioned the other 26 books, yet there is no evidence for it. Here are two searches, one for the word write and the other for the word writing.

New Testament search for the word write

New Testament search for the word writing

Remember, the reason for this post is not to challenge the legitimacy of the New Testament. I only want people to think about it in a new way. We know about Revelation, but what about the other 26 books? What is the method we use to know that Jesus wanted those books? How were those books chosen to be part of the infallible canon, and who did the infallible choosing? If those books did not exist, what would we need to rely upon to be saved?

The cult was no help at all

I brought up reverse gaslighting yesterday for a specific reason. It is because of how few adults are talking about their experiences growing up with divorced (or never married) parents.

Based on my own experience, I can say that our culture reverse gaslighted me. The lie that everything was OK was deeply embedded in me, to such an extent that I repeated it for decades. However, I should have seen that the circumstances of my life were strong evidence that everything was not OK inside me. But nobody helped me put the pieces together until a few years ago, when I got to know the gal who became my Catholic mentor. Like pieces of a very complex puzzle, she was able to help me put everything together through a thoroughly Catholic lens. Remember how I mentioned before about the importance of making proper distinctions? She helped me do that.

The cult leader claims to be teaching an esoteric system that helps people have a “right relationship” with themselves, with others and with the world around them (paraphrased from his website), but that is a lie. Everything done there is supposed to be about psychological healing, but there were many issues surrounding my parents divorce and subsequent actions that were never addressed. I buried everything I felt because there was no avenue to express it, no language, no concepts, no affirmation of that reality. As just one example, rarely the cult leader would mention of how I never had a family–he mentioned it enough that I knew that this is what he thought. But he also severely denigrated my mother, publicly and often. He hated her, and I am not entirely clear why but I have an opinion that I may share here at another time. His denigration of her fed into my unresolved anger. He was crafty enough to see my lack of family and understand how vulnerable it made me, but he never helped ME to see it–I was in denial about that loss the entire time. Plus he didn’t affirm my mother or my father. He didn’t help me to honor them as the Bible tells us to do. In fact, he actively encouraged me to shun them, especially my mother. He did not acknowledge the legitimacy of my first family, that triad, that community of three persons who formed one family, the impetus of my being. His “esoteric help” did not help me at all. It was his way of keeping me embedded there as part of his narcissistic supply. The same could be said for my ex-husband, whose parents divorced when he was 16.

The ironic thing is that now I am a Catholic and because of the teachings and practices of the Catholic Church, I finally have a “right relationship” with my ex-husband, but he does not have a “right relationship” with me. In regards to his relationship to me, the cult has not helped him to forgive, to work through his rage, to stop his defamation, or to stop his sexual sin and alcohol usage… and he calls himself a true Christian. I recently learned about the restorationist movement. I did not even know that was a thing, but evidently it’s pretty common for groups to consider themselves as returning to first century Christianity. Well, that certainly describes the cult. But the fruit of the cult is bad, and that is one way to know that it is not based on Christ. He is still as stuck in those emotions and behaviors as he was years ago, if not more so. As it says in Galations 5:19-23:

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.

I am not certain I should be saying these things about him. But I am becoming indignant at his stubborn refusal to humble himself, to give me any leeway whatsoever, and his persistent determination to denigrate me to my own children. It is evil, and I am becoming less willing to remain silent about it. He is training my girls to accept that a man should treat a woman that way, and he is training my son to treat women that way.

Lord, please help me understand how to deal with this man according to your will. I must avoid and repent from any desire for revenge, because you alone are the judge. If I could cut him out of my life for good, I would, because he is advocating and practicing evil. But I cannot, since he is the father of my children and a grandfather of my grandchild. I know that he was created in your image and likeness, and in that sense he is good, but I am infuriated that my children still have to be subjected to his evil beliefs and behaviors. Lord, please do something. Please help him repent, help him return to his first love, help him to see how far away he is from your grace, give him the courage to face his fears, bring one of your servants into his life to tell him the truth and help him hear it. Please help me love him as you do. I hate having to use my kids’ dad as an example of evil behavior. It makes me very sad. Amen.

Edit: here is today’s Collect from the Latin mass I attended this evening:

Da, quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo diabolica vitare contagia: et te solum Deum pura mente sectari. Per Dominum.

Translation:

Grant, O Lord, unto Thy people, grace to avoid all contact with the devil, and with pure minds to follow Thee, the only God. Through our Lord.

“Sola scriptura” is incoherent to me

Here are the big questions to consider: who are you going to trust, and in what do you place your trust? For example, you will encounter people who claim to trust in the Bible alone as their sole authority. This teaching has a fancy Latin name: sola scriptura. People who believe this, without realizing it, rely on an outside authority who compiled the list of Biblical books infallibly. “Bible alone” theology would not exist except for this outside authority.

the-new-testament-canon
Which authority props up this list? Not the Bible, not me, not you.

Think of this as a table of contents. It appears prior to and outside of Genesis 1:1 – Revelation 22:21. How was it compiled? What about the other letters mentioned in the New Testament (Col. 4:16, 1 Cor. 5:9-11, 2 Cor. 2:4)? How do we know that it’s OK that they aren’t included in that list above? Shouldn’t we find them and examine them to determine for ourselves? Why these 27 letters and not more or fewer? 

Other problems I have with “Bible alone” theology:

  • Jesus did not write a book, nor is it recorded that he commanded anybody to write anything down.
  • There is no record of Jesus approving of the New Testament canon.
  • When you look inside the Bible itself, it is not at all clear that it claims to be the final authority.
  • Paul makes references to traditions in a positive manner, which means that there are legitimate Christian traditions (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6). What are they? How do we know what they are?
  • “Bible alone” leaves the early Christians in the dark, since they didn’t have the New Testament canon.

Here’s how it looks: Jesus did not explicitly commission a collection of letters made by a variety of authors, nor did he physically contribute anything written. This collection was compiled infallibly, but other authority claims made by the people who compiled it can be safely ignored. We cannot challenge the collection itself. For example, Martin Luther was wrong to want to “throw Jimmy in the stove.” Even so, we are free to disagree with others regarding the teaching contained in the letters. If the disagreement is strong enough, we are free to start our own church. Jesus expects us to understand the teachings contained therein well enough on our own in order to be saved. If we receive help from people in understanding it, that’s just an added bonus but they might be wrong. We have to discern on our own whether or not this help is accurate. Jesus taught that all traditions are bad in Mark 7:8, so implicit teachings and practices in the pages of the canon are just somehow accurate apart from reliance on tradition (the Trinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, the Incarnation, requirement to worship on Sunday, the elements and order of Sunday worship services, Sunday school, grape juice instead of wine, asking Jesus into our hearts, celebrating Jesus’ birthday, celebrating it on Dec. 25, the date setting process for Easter each year, etc.).

You see the problem? Ultimately “Bible alone” means these things:

  • Jesus did not commission a New Testament… but we know he wanted one
  • we are not our own authority when it comes to which books are in the New Testament
  • the people who codified the New Testament were not cooperating with grace
  • we are our own authority when it comes to understanding the New Testament
  • Jesus condemned traditions in Mark 7:8, so this means we can ignore other parts of the Bible (1 Cor. 11:2, 2 Thess. 2:15, 2 Thess. 3:6)
  • implicit dogmas, teachings and practices are Biblical without being traditional.

Two things former Catholics will say

All of the former Catholics I have encountered online have left the Catholic Church for erroneous reasons. For example, many of them were poorly catechized, meaning, they don’t understand what the Church teaches. So they leave believing that they will obtain something that was already rightfully theirs as a Catholic. For example, you will encounter former Catholics who say things like this:

“I left the Catholic Church and gave my life to Jesus Christ.”

Without a doubt, this kind of person falls into the category I just described. A relationship with Jesus Christ is and was rightfully theirs as a Catholic, but for whatever reason they didn’t realize it. For more details on what I mean, see these posts of mine:

I recently came across the blog of somebody who is a former Catholic of that stripe, who is trying to convert Catholics away from the Catholic Church.

One recent blog post was arguing that the idea of having a pope was neither Biblical nor historical. (This, in and of itself, is a common objection that has been dealt with many times, in many ways, over many many years, by many different Catholics.)

In this particular instance, this blogger quoted from a few church fathers to make the argument. I noticed that the quotes discussed the office of bishop. Bishops are male leaders in the Catholic Church who can trace their ordinations all the way back to the Apostles. It was clear from the quotes that the office of bishop was legitimate and necessary. I read this person’s “About” page and a few other posts. I am not 100% certain what sort of Protestant he is, but regardless of that, he is either under and invalid bishop, or not under any bishop at all. From the Catholic perspective, a bishop is valid if his ordination is part of an unbroken chain of ordinations going back to the Apostles. This is called Apostolic Succession. Certainly most Evangelical Christians would agree that they are not under any bishop at all. From reading this persons other blog posts, I have the impression that he is part of a non-denominational church, which means he’s not under any bishop.

This blogger was relying on the historical legitimacy and existence of bishops, yet did not appear to be under a bishop himself. If he is not under any bishop at all, this seems like a big oversight. He was not arguing that the office of bishop was invalid, just the office of pope. The office of bishop was being invoked, yet the person doesn’t seem to be applying it to himself as a Christian. I wanted to respond but couldn’t think of a way to do it. The best I could come up with was to ask, “Are you under a bishop?” or, “Is the office of bishop a valid office?” but even that seemed provocative. I wrote this post instead so you could understand two kinds of arguments former Catholics make.

Related: here is the list of popes (aka Bishops of Rome), going all the way back to St. Peter:

The List of Popes

The Catholic category of “wait and see”

I realize that a lot of what I write sounds very black and white. People reading it, who seem to fall outside the legitimate parameters that I discuss in matters of sex and family, might think I am judging them harshly. One reason I discuss things in a general sense is that I want to avoid causing people to feel that way.

But there is another reason. In my mind those people are in a category I think of as “wait and see.”

I firmly believe that most people today, at least in my country and in the West, are operating under erroneous ideas about sex and family formation. So I am always hopeful that they might change their minds if or when they encounter the truth. I don’t judge them because the Gospel always has an open door for people who later realize the truth. As we read in the Holy Gospel according to St. Luke, Jesus said:

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

So I don’t judge, because I know what it is like to live under those erroneous ideas. While we live there is hope.