I know that many (myself included) have taken to calling Pope John Paul II “the Great”. I’m sure that it will stick, and he will be known by this title. But, as I was reflecting today on Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the United States as well as his vast contribution to the Church, I considered what he might be titled for future generations. And it hit me . . . Pope Benedict the Theologian. There have only been a couple (that I can remember) saints throughout history with this title. I can only think of St. John (the Evangelist) and St. Gregory Nazianzus. And no, I’m not beatifying Benedict already (as if I could), but if he were to be titled anything, this would be it. Everything this wonderful pastor does, even his simplest addresses to the simplest of gatherings, is full of true theology – a theology one can tell is drenched in prayer and contemplation of God. I love this Pope.
If you’ve ever been accused of being an idol worshiper (yes, I have), then perhaps you should click on this link.
One of those rare moments of pure clarity hit me while I was studying this issue some years back. I looked at the Old Testament injunction against making images of God (specifically images of God – not other personages or creatures). I believe this can be found in Deuteronomy and it states: “Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the midst of the fire, beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure”
Since you saw no form . . . I’ll never forget when it hit me – Christ says, “When you have seen me, you have seen the Father.” He is called the Godhead in bodily form. Christ himself overturned this injunction by His Incarnation. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I’ve never been bothered by the feeling I’m worshiping an idol. Never. It seems to me that those who think that icons or religious art somehow insult God perhaps haven’t meditated on the overwhelming topsyturviness of the Incarnation.
Here’s the Amazon link.
The author is Mark Shea, whom I find to be quite able at expressing complex ideas succinctly. I want to provide a brief excerpt, which, though long, perfectly sums up how I felt about the ancient Church after a similar study.
Modernism, as we recall, would have us believe that the Misunderstood Sage of Nazareth was both a profoundly wise rabbi and the dumbest cluck in human history. It proposes that a deeply spiritual man who saw through human souls like glass was incapable of noticing that his chosen disciples were people not even moderately competent at remembering a handful of his words and deeds. It also asserts that this devout Jew’s love of the one true God of Israel so inspired these witless witnesses with devotion to their Master that they ran off the instant he was dead to blaspheme all he held dear. Modernism asks us to swallow the notion that these paragons of stupidity remained as stupid as ever for the rest of their lives, yet nonetheless managed to construct a militant, well-organized, theologically-sophisticated community capable of disturbing the Roman peace within twenty years of its founding and noticeable enough to invite Neronian persecution within thirty years. This impressive church, says modernism, was set in motion by a Galilean enigma whose few garbled phrases the New Testament writers, in their intense devotion to his memory, cannot for the life of them remember or even paraphrase, much less understand.
But if it is preposterous to say the entire apostolic community could simultaneously be this stupid and this brilliant, this forgetful and this obsessed with tradition, this unimaginative and this capable of flamboyantly inflating a rabbi whom even they couldn’t remember into the Incarnate God of Israel, then how much more preposterous was my Pagan Creep theory? For it demanded I believe exactly the same thing of the apostles and their disciples. Indeed, it demanded that the apostles had to have been twelve times more grotesquely incompetent than the already fabulously incompetent Jesus of modernism. It meant believing that everywhere the apostles went they – all of them – appointed successors who perverted their teaching on a dozen subjects as badly as modernism said the apostles had perverted Christ’s. It meant that that for sixty years of blood, sweat, and toil, the apostles made thousands of disciples so stupid that they could not grasp the most elementary teachings of their faith. It meant believing that their churches – all of them in north, south, east and west – paganized Christianity (and paganized it everywhere in the same way) the instant the apostles died. It meant believing that these churches, together with their overseers who had been handpicked by the apostles, were constantly engaged in a schizophrenic campaign of deliberate pagan perversion of the Faith while simultaneously dying in droves for the purity of the Faith.
The book is short, well-written, and particularly excellent at expressing in clear language the thoughts and inclinations of many Evangelicals who find themselves drawn to the Catholic Church (or the Orthodox Church for that matter). Someone (I believe in the forward) said this was the spiritual sequel to Evangelical is Not Enough, by Thomas Howard. I credit that one book with breaking down several walls that existed between myself and ancient Christianity. After reading this book by Shea, I have to agree with the assessment. Highly recommended.
I have preached on street corners. I’ve have preached in the middle of UNC-Charlotte with hundreds of students surrounding me. I have preached in pulpits and in Sunday School rooms. I’ve preached in the middle of the woods when no one was around to hear.
Yet so often, the words coming out of my mouth did not reflect what was held deeply in my heart. So often I said things which I knew, or at least felt, rested on shaky foundations. I’ve mentioned before about my experience preaching at UNC-Charlotte. I kept looking at the faces of those people who were confronting me with so many of the same questions I secretly held myself. I kept thinking, They’re going to know I don’t believe what I’m saying. I was sure my own deficiencies were apparent. I probably masked them by preaching louder.
Yet here I am. A year Catholic. Has it been a perfect year? Not by far. I’ve stumbled, and I’ve faltered. I’ve proved my own weaknesses more often than I would have liked. I’ve ran to the sacrament of reconciliation far more times than I would have anticipated. Yet I’ve run. I’ve stumbled, yes, but I have kept moving. And let me say emphatically . . . only by the graces of God. If it were not for the sacraments I would not be here today. The Eucharist has drawn me back when everything in me and around me was saying, Just give up. Reconciliation was there for me as I dejectedly walked into the confessional only to walk out again, feeling fresh and new and alive.
And it’s because of God’s strength, God’s graces in the sacraments, God’s word in the Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition of His Church – it’s because of these things that I truly, for the first time in my life, want to stand upon rooftops and proclaim His great love. I’ve had thoughts of going back to those streets, back to the college campus, back to those same pulpits and Sunday School rooms, only to proclaim that God’s plan for us is found in the graces given to His Church.
I hope a little bit of this desire comes through in my every day life. I’m sure that my weaknesses and the enemy’s efforts will, more often than not, cloud the reality that is this burning fire in my heart.
Maybe I’m just still excited about being Catholic. After all, today is my one year anniversary of coming into the Church (Yay me!). But I have this overwhelming desire to find some sort of work for the Church. The problem is . . . how the heck is that possible? Here I am, a lowly network technician whose field of study is History! I haven’t a clue how to get where I feel like I’d be most happy. Yet, here I am, still thinking about it.
I suppose dreaming isn’t that harmful. But suppose that is where God wants me. Is there a way to get there? Are there online courses for Catholics to take from accredited Catholic universities, for example? I haven’t the foggiest. In the meantime, I’ll keep setting up those networks. God can use me in the little ways
Perhaps it’s because I came to Catholicism via a brief stay in Eastern Orthodoxy, but I voted ‘yes’ to a poll presented over at The Cafeteria is Closed. However, one priest made a comment that really made me think about the issue more deeply.
The possibility of increasing the number of priests really interests me. I’m concerned. I won’t lie. But is that trusting in God? After all, it is His Church. Yet, there’s a part of me that wants the priest shortage solved now. God doesn’t work on my time-table, thankfully. There are, admittedly, numerous questions that would have to be answered. Like the increased pay for a man who is now supporting an entire family. Increased cost of health insurance, etc. But these are just tangential to the the theological question: is the celibate priesthood what God wants for the Church?
The fact that other Catholic rites have married priests would seem to militate against a negative answer to that question. Yet, in so many cases, I’ve seen priests in Eastern Churches who have to take second jobs in order to provide for their families. And let’s not forget the stresses to the family, and the very real possibility of divorce and estrangement.
It’s a difficult question. One I’ve thought about often, but not in depth. I’m a new Catholic still (tomorrow is my one year anniversary), and I want to think with the mind of the Church on the issue. One thing that always bothers me about the married priesthood advocates . . . you rarely find one that is just for married priests. There always seems to be a litany of other issues tacked on with the position.
Okay, okay – so I watch American Idol. Is that so wrong?
Before you answer that, let me just say that this week’s show was very surprising. Firstly, the featured artist was Dolly Parton. Now, I’m an unashamed fan of Dolly’s voice. I don’t own a single record of hers, but I always enjoy hearing her sing. There’s something authentic and just pure Southern about her writing and experiences. She’s a contradiction sometimes – a pure product of the Christ haunted culture of the South (throwing some Flannery O’Conner at you – heh). She’s singing about stealing someone’s man one minute, then praising Jesus the next. Very Southern.
On Tuesday’s show, the contestants sung Dolly’s songs. I was simply amazed at the number that mentioned Jesus. I could just imagine what was going on in Simon’s head after hearing all these references to Christ. And then . . . well, the results show was even more surprising. The Clark Brothers won a recent talent show called, The Next Great American Band. These guys wowed me by singing some good ‘ole gospel hymns. Wow. Check it out.