On empty rituals

birthday party empty ritual v2
Birthday parties are cultural rituals.

Let’s say you were good friends with your neighbor. She has a young son, and she invites you to his birthday party. You decide to go because you care about your neighbor, but you don’t really want to be there because he’s just a little kid, and a noisy one at that. So you go, but you don’t have a good time. The kids are laughing and having a good time, but you’re not. You notice, however, that other adults are having a good time. They’re smiling and laughing at the kids’ antics. Finally, as soon as you think you can get away, you make an excuse to leave.

Birthday celebrations are rituals. We might say that you experienced an empty birthday party, an empty ritual. What made it empty?

Did the son make it empty? Was it the other kids? The neighbor? The kids’ laughter? The fact that it was a birthday party? Why was it an empty ritual for you but apparently not for the other adults?

It might be that you didn’t fill the ritual with anything. Rituals require faith, hope, and love to see into them, to their meaning. It is possible that bringing faith, hope, and love to the neighbor’s son’s birthday party would have changed the event for you.

If the ritual seems empty, that might not be your fault. It could be that nobody taught you how to fill it, or that you even needed to fill it. I’ve seen that a lot. If you don’t know how to fill the ritual, then look around and see if you know anybody who does. I bet they can help you.

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For Reformation Day: Protestantism hurt and confused me

Reposting this from last year. A brief synopsis of my personal experiences within Protestantism.

https://everybodysdaughter.wordpress.com/2016/10/31/protestantism-hurt-and-confused-me/

For Reformation Day: Bible conundrum

I recently had an online disagreement with somebody, a Protestant. I asked her to cite Bible verses to support her position. So she did. I replied I disagreed with her interpretation of those verses. Then I asked her if I had an obligation to accept her interpretation. I also said that if her answer was yes, that I DID have an obligation to accept her interpretation, then to tell me where or from whom she received her authority to impose her interpretation upon me (and presumably upon every other Christian). Then I asked her what we should do if I disagreed with her claim about the source of her authority. Her response was that I was using an ad hominem. I responded by saying that I was not criticising her, but I was criticising her presupposition. So it wasn’t an ad hominem.

Here is the syllogism:

  • Since God is one, He does not change, and He only teaches one truth, there can only be one objectively correct interpretation of Scripture.
  • There is disagreement of what Scripture means between two or more Christians of good will. They all can see this.
  • No parties to the dispute have authority to enforce the correct interpretation, but one or more do not realize this. One or more believes that making better arguments or citing more or better Scripture verses is the way to resolve the dispute. Yet the dispute is never resolved.
  • No agreement is made. Visible fractures develop between Christians, since the parties to the dispute all believe themselves to understand the correct interpretation of Scripture (which is a tacit reinforcement of the first point above).

By what authority may somebody enforce the one and only correct interpretation of Sacred Scripture when there is a disagreement between Christians of good will?

Jesus said, “It is written…”

Strictly speaking, the Bible doesn’t teach us anything. Teaching requires a teacher, a person. You can do a little experiment to see what I mean. Set your Bible in front of you, closed. Say to it, “Bible, teach me about Christ.” Then wait. What happens? Nothing happens, of course. The Bible did not suddenly open and begin to speak. Opening a Bible, reading it, then teaching what is written in it requires a person. The Bible itself is not super clear about a number of important things, and this one reason why there are so many factions within Christianity, all claiming the Bible as their infallible authority. It is also why we must be careful about who we listen to about the Bible.

The Bible is the Word of God. It is good for us to read it and meditate on it. Jesus said, “It is written…” He did not say, “It teaches…”

1 Cor. 1:12 does not say, “I am of the Scriptures”

Seckau Basilika Engelskapelle Bekehrung des Äthiopiers
The Ethiopian Eunuch and Philip from Acts 8. Credit: Uoaei1 Wikimedia Commons

I wrote this post as a response to an interaction I had earlier today on my blog.

1 Corinthians 1:12 says: “Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ.” (KJV)

St. Paul is discussing divisions among the Christians. I just thought of something though. None of the examples St. Paul gives are saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” If the “Bible alone” doctrine is true, then this situation would have been a good opportunity for the Holy Spirit to teach it, it seems to me. After all, they certainly had Scriptures at that time, what we now call the Old Testament. And the Scriptures are important. They are the Word of God. Many people say that are the highest or final authority. If that were true, then certainly some of the people St. Paul mentioned would have said, “I am of the Scriptures.” Why would they be saying they were of one person or another if the Scriptures alone were the highest authority?

Today, Christians will often say, “I don’t follow any person. I use the Bible alone as my authority.” This sounds just like saying, “I am of the Scriptures.” Yet there is no Biblical example of somebody identifying with the Scriptures in that way.

The Scriptures are like a Holy Reference Book, to be sure, but it is a two-edged sword and we must be careful when using it.

Now, I can think of a counter argument. I’ll tell it here but I don’t think it is effective and I will explain why: the Jews of the Jewish Synagog in Acts 17 who were “examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” The leaders among them had that right by virtue of their authority, which they acquired by birth. By what authority do people today use the Bible?

Also I would like to mention here John 5:39, where Jesus says, “You search the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness to Me.” It is probably fair to say that the Jews in Acts 17 were not searching the scriptures to receive eternal life. They weren’t using the Scriptures as their final authority. That actually doesn’t even make sense given the context. If those Scriptures were the final authority, then they would not have needed St. Paul to preach to them. Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes by hearing,” not “Faith comes by reading.” In order for one person to hear, somebody else has to speak. The transmission of the faith is from person to person, not from book to person. There is no Biblical evidence of individualistic reliance on the Scriptures. As we see with the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 (emphasis added):

But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert road. 27 And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of the Canda′ce the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless some one guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this:

“As a sheep led to the slaughter
or a lamb before its shearer is dumb,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken up from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself or about some one else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this scripture he told him the good news of Jesus.

Asking Jesus into our hearts as an Act of Spiritual Communion

While talking to a friend on the phone tonight, I thought of another entry for the Catholic/Protestant Dictionary post.

Protestants encourage people to pray a simple prayer called the Sinner’s Prayer, and to ask Jesus into their hearts. I first did this when I was six or maybe seven years old. I wrote about that experience in my post called The OSAS pattern is present in Catholic practice.

What I didn’t mention in that post is how when I first became Catholic, I spent a short period of time with a sense of mocking or derision for that prayer. It was clear to me that it’s not in the Bible, and so it seemed like a blatent oversight that “Bible alone” Christians would encourage people to pray it. I didn’t spend much time in that mindset though. This is because at some point I realized that the Sinner’s Prayer can be thought of in Catholic terms: it is a simple Act of Contrition. And so I included this in the Catholic/Protestant Dictionary post. But I did not realize that the prayer to ask Jesus into my heart has it’s own Catholic equivelant, until talking to my friend this evening.

Catholics have a prayer called the Act of Spiritual Communion. There are several versions and they are all pretty similar from what I’ve seen. Here is one I just found on the EWTN website:

My Jesus,
I believe that You are present in the Most Holy Sacrament.
I love You above all things, and I desire to receive You into my soul.
Since I cannot at this moment receive You sacramentally,
come at least spiritually into my heart. I embrace You as if You were already there and unite myself wholly to You. Never permit me to be separated from You.
Amen.

Just as the Sinner’s Prayer is a simple Act of Contrition, it seems that that the Protestant prayer to ask Jesus into our hearts is a simplified form of the Act of Spiritual Communion! At least, I think it was for me when I first prayed it as a little girl.

That makes me feel really good. 🙂

How big is your Jesus?

jesus i trust in youOne of the things that persuaded me to become Catholic was the idea that Christ established a Church that has continued into the present day. Once I understood Apostolic Succession and the magisterium, I found this more compelling than the alternative view I had been implicitly raised with and unknowingly accepted.

The alternative view is that Christ started a church but then left it for some unknown reason to fall into error, or worse, that he was too weak or unloving to keep his church from error. He somehow guided this church to codify the Bible infallibly, and to define a few key doctrines correctly (ie, the Trinity), but there was little else that this church did that was correct.

I do remember having that conception of the church, so let me defend my old view for a moment. That view fits with how I imagined Christ’s ministry while he was walking on the earth. He was an itinerant preacher, wandering from place to place, preaching the Gospel and performing miracles. He appeared to be outside of the established Jewish hierarchy, railing against it to discredit it, to encourage people to abandon it and to follow him.

I see now that my picture of Christ’s relationship to the Jewish hierarchy of his day was not correct. Why? Because that hierarchy was established by God, so Christ was not discrediting the hierarchy itself or its authority. He was only discrediting the poor conduct and lack of faith of its members. For example:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice…” (Matt. 23:1-3)

Sitting on Moses’ seat is a big deal. It means that the authority structure was established by God. There is no way Christ would encourage people to abandon or disrespect that authority structure while it was still active. It was, however, annulled with the implementation of the New Covenant.

The Catholic claim is that the priesthood of the New Covenant is a continuation of the priesthood of Melchizedek, not of Aaron. Christ is a priest in the order of Melchizedek, and he established a hierarchy that is founded on, and operates through, himself. The Apostles and their successors participate in and express Christ’s priesthood. They operate in persona Christi, in the person of Christ. So when, for example, I go to confession, I am confessing to Christ, not to the priest, strictly speaking. The order of Melchizedek forms the backbone of the Church (read more about this here, starting at 1544).

Christ has kept this hierarchy and the Church it supports free from error in regards to its teachings regarding faith and morals, and to me, this is a miracle. This living Church is the very sort of miracle he would perform. To me, it means that he is a lot bigger and more loving than I originally thought he was.

Learning about straw man arguments and bad faith

The internet is a great place to do research. There is so much out there that is interesting and factual. However, there is also a lot that is not factual or is founded on poor logic.

strawman scarecrow
The straw man is easy to knock down.

Today I want to show you what a “straw man” argument is. Think of a straw-man argument just like you would think of a scarecrow in a garden. A scarecrow is easy to knock down because it is not a real opponent, right? If you want to win an argument, it is tempting to setup a verbal or intellectual “straw man,” then you can just knock him down with your argument and declare victory.

It works like this. Somebody sets up an argument based on something their opponent did not say. They misrepresent their opponent–this is the first step in creating a straw man argument. Their misrepresentation becomes a “straw man” that they knock down by falsely discrediting their opponent. Let me demonstrate. Let’s say I said this: “Joel said we should never go to Rubios again. He is wrong and here is why.” Then I go into some detail about why Rubios is great and why we should continue to go there. I get to “win” the argument, but it was really no win at all, because Joel never said that we should not go to Rubios any more. I had a “victory” over something he never even said.  I’m sure you can agree that this would be no victory at all.

Now, let’s use a real life example that you will probably encounter somewhere on the internet: anti-Catholic Christians saying that the Catholic Church teaches people to earn their salvation by performing good works. These anti-Catholic Christians do this by misrepresenting what the Church teaches about meriting salvation.

The Catholic Church does teach us to merit our salvation. But these anti-Catholic Christians don’t understand how the Church uses the word merit. The just make up their own false definition (this becomes the “straw man”), then they refute it. They tell people that when Catholics say merit, it means that Catholics believe they earn salvation through good works, but it is not true.

Obviously this is a problem because it means that there is no real exchange of ideas and

straw man
The Church does not defend the idea that we earn salvation by performing good deeds. Those who say it does have committed the straw man fallacy.

no real conversation. But it may be the signal of a deeper problem: that the person is not interacting with others a good faith way. Good faith means treating others fairly, giving them the benefit of the doubt, understanding the limitations of the medium, being willing to overlook minor flaws in the argument, making genuine efforts to understand the argument, correcting or eliminating straw men and other fallacies in one’s own argument, etc. Bad faith means that the person just wants to win, is not willing to have an honest dialog, and will make no concessions. Repeated and uncorrected straw men might signal bad faith. They might signal that the person is not willing to have an honest discussion. If you ever sense bad faith, it is time to evaluate how much interaction you want to have with that person.

I do not know why anti-Catholic Christians do this all the time with the word merit. With all the information available online, it is easy enough to actually verify what the Catholic Church means. It makes me wonder if they are arguing in bad faith.

merit badges
Merit badges are super cool, but don’t get them mixed up with the Catholic teaching on salvation.

But perhaps not. For example, I have wondered if people associate the word merit with the Boy Scouts. Boy Scouts can earn merit badges, right? So perhaps the word merit is strongly associated with the word earn. Maybe their chain of reasoning goes like this:

“Boy Scouts earn merit badges which includes doing good deeds. Catholics believe they earn (merit) salvation by doing good deeds.”

I can see how somebody would assume that merit means earn, if they associate merit with the Boy Scouts. But I have no idea if I am correct about this. There must be something driving this pervasive problem and I’m just trying to explain what it might be.

I do know this: when Catholics say merit salvation, they do not mean earn salvation. They have not taken their cue from the Boy Scouts about what the word merit means.

Merit means reward, and the word reward is used quite a bit in the New Testament, even by Christ himself.

My song this morning

I woke up this morning with this song in my mind and heart, Create in me a clean heart:

Then a little while later, I read the Bible readings for today. There is a section of the mass called the Responsorial Psalm. It is when a section from the Psalms is read, and the congregation responds. Today’s is from Psalm 81, and it made me smile.

R. Sing with joy to God our help.
Take up a melody, and sound the timbrel,
the pleasant harp and the lyre.
Blow the trumpet at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our solemn feast.
R. Sing with joy to God our help.
For it is a statute in Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob,
Who made it a decree for Joseph
when he came forth from the land of Egypt.
R. Sing with joy to God our help.
There shall be no strange god among you
nor shall you worship any alien god.
I, the LORD, am your God
who led you forth from the land of Egypt.
R. Sing with joy to God our help.

 

Grace and the sacraments

I’d like to talk about grace. Specifically, how grace is given and the mechanism for how it flows into the life of the believer.

I was a Protestant/Evangelical for a short time, but definitely not a theologian. So I might not represent the Protestant/Evangelical view on this point correctly. On the other hand, there may be multiple views since there isn’t one governing body among them to define orthodoxy on this point. Even so, I am open to being corrected.

It seems to me that under Protestant/Evangelical theology, there is no explicit “vehicle” to impart grace, no explicitly defined way that grace flows into the life of the believer. It is just sort of like an invisible cloud that somehow appears, surrounds, or is absorbed into the believer’s soul once faith in Christ is exercised. If faith in Christ ceases, the cloud departs. For those who believe in Once Saved, Always Saved (OSAS), the cloud never departs.

Protestants/Evangelicals reject the necessity of the sacraments. I have had the impression that they reject the physicality associated with the sacraments. They seem to recoil at the idea that God has instituted something physical as a way to channel grace into the life of the believer. To them, grace is only imparted in an unseen, spiritual manner, like an invisible cloud.

As I have mentioned before, I spent a lot of time in a gnostic cult, where we actually studied different gnostic texts by famous gnostic authors (such as G.I. Gurdjieff and his most famous disciple, P.D. Ouspensky). So I am very well acquainted with it. Gnosticism has two main ideas: 1) there is special, hidden knowledge which is only given to certain people, and this knowledge is what saves people. 2) the physical realm is undesirable, evil, and/or ultimately unnecessary. It needs to be shed and discarded the way a snake sheds and discards his skin.

-The physical is bad!Because of that experience, anytime I see people rejecting the physical, claiming it is unnecessary or bad, my alarm bells go off.

The Church does not teach that special knowledge saves people, and she teaches that the physical is good. So good, in fact, that our physical bodies will be resurrected. Because of this, the sacraments make sense to me precisely because they are physically based.

The Church teaches that the sacraments are the normative “vehicle” through which grace is given to Christians. This physicality speaks to the goodness of the physical creation, to Christ’s humanity and his physical body, to the idea that the physical is good, that God loves the physical, and he uses it for our good.

I take the physicality of the sacraments as evidence for the the Church’s claim about who she is, not as evidence against that claim.

Edited to add: this post is based on a comment I left on a blog called Orthodox Christian Theology.