Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Who Can Battle With the Lord?

I learned a Nigerian worship song by that title tonight: quite a catchy tune. I listened to it and meditated on its words:

Who can battle with the Lord?
Who can battle with the Lord?
Who can battle with the Lord?
I say nobody.

Yeah, it's pretty simple. But I was struck by the answer to the question, for on one hand it is a statement of security and protection under the Almighty, and on the other hand, it's a testament to being unable to reconcile my selfish desires with God's plan for my life. Much like my etymological namesake, Jacob (of Genesis 32:25-31 fame), I frequently wrestle with God. Well, maybe not "much like" as for me it's not a physical match where he tweaks my sciatic muscle and causes me to lose the fight. My struggle against my carnal urges is really a battle of my corrupt will versus my sanctified will.

Some days are better than others - sometimes my foe takes a cheap shot and I'm crippled, other days I gain the upper hand and drive him into the sea like an Irish serpent. I'm at a crucial point in my spiritual growth, and he doesn't like it and is scrapping harder than ever.

All the more reason to put the fight into God's hands, for who can battle the Lord?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Of Rider Pride and Inevitable Vandalism

Any time you display your Green & White colours in a town like Winnipeg, especially when snow and grass are your medium, you just know it won't last. The Riders won the Grey Cup not more than 30 minutes ago, so I doubt if this particular rendering will last into the morning.

But I had to do it. All Blue Bomber fans who come to our home must trudge through their shame if they want to eat our waffles.

Unless they use the back door.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

"That They May Be One"

My title is the phrase which Jesus prayed, for unity among the believers who would come after his disciples, as found in Luke 17, verse 22.

Specifically, he prayed that the unity of the next generations of Christians would be as intimate and as deep and as authentic as the unity between his very self and God the Father.

So when I hear other Christians say, "Sure, we disagree on some stuff, but we agree on the core fundamentals of our faith, and that's good enough."

Really? REALLY? Do you think the Father and the Son agree on a few key fundamentals of how life and universe matter but disagree on some of the more petty things? Of course not; when it comes to Truth - and God is Truth - there are no petty things. All Truth, whether a tiny morsel of it or a seven course dinner, is Truth, and it is complete and absolute and cannot be divided from itself any more than we can divide the persons of the Trinity.

So it's quite obvious that in claiming that we can abide the "petty" differences between the churches (and I'm talking about doctrine and matters of faith & belief, as opposed to matters of style) that we are only making an excuse not to examine the merits of all sides in this debate. If you are a Protestant reading this and have never even considered the possibility of becoming Catholic, I invite you to pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you through a discernment of opening your heart to it. Seriously.

This train of thought was chugged into motion when I read a fabulous article by Damian Thompson in merry old England's Telegraph online (and a tip o' the hat to my buddy Darwin for sending it my way). Seems that Pope Benedict is really shaking things up with his vision for liturgical reform in the Church. He's making a lot of the right people get very nervous.

For example, in July of this year he issued an apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum, authorizing the use of the Latin Mass without having to obtain special permission from the local bishop. Note that the link provided above is to an unofficial, yet trusted, English translation, as apparently some wag in the Vatican thought it would be ironic to have the official document available in Latin only.

Winnipeg own Archbishop James Weisgerber almost immediately produced some thoughts on the letter, and he published them in the diocese's monthly newsletter in October. It's pictured here should you feel so inclined to read it in its entirety (click it to make it larger).

I first met his grace a few years back when I made some light inquiries into becoming a Catholic deacon (still not done discerning that, and it's quite far down on my priority list of important things to discern), and on every occasion that he's encountered me after that meeting, he has always remembered my name (which I suppose is easy, as it's his too) and that I'm a fellow son of Saskatchewan. I've heard him deliver some excellent homilies, and have witnessed him involve himself deeply with the Catholic youth of the city. As well, he never ends a sentence with a preposition, something I've always admired him for for which I've always admired him.

But I gotta tell ya, after I read this piece I felt a little queasy. He's essentially saying that we don't need to implement the Latin Mass here because there is no interest in it. Repeat after me... there is no interest. Keep your eye on the pocket watch, now, and say it again... there is no interest. Noooobody wants it..... shhhh.....

In retort, I refer to Damian Thompson's article. He says that Benedict has a "conviction that the Catholic Church must rediscover the liturgical treasure of Christian history to perform its most important task: worshiping God. This conviction is shared by growing numbers of young Catholics, but not by the church politicians who have dominated the hierarchies of Europe for too long."

So for Archbishop Weisgerber to claim that "there is little evidence of a 'strong attachment' and there are no stable communities with a continued experience of celebrating the Tridentine rite" misses out on the possibility that this new generation of Catholics is really wondering what the Latin liturgy is like. I've never been to a Latin Mass, but I constantly hear hushed reminiscences from the old guard of what it was like; quiet, reverent, profound, larger than life itself, full of spirit and mystery. The bishop says "our Sunday worship reflects who we are," but how can we possibly have it reflect us as a Latin-loving people if we are denied the opportunity to love it?

He may be right though, about not being able to sustain a genuine interest among the laity in a regular Latin liturgy in the archdiocese. But I would suggest that this is not due to a lack of appetite on the part of the faithful, but rather to discouraging messages like this one that encourage us to rely on the force-fed, reconstituted liturgical baby food we've known for the last forty years. Far too many of our priests give up on us far too easily, and we really need them to step up and make us feel uncomfortable until we listen to them.

Archbishop Weisgerber goes on to state:

I believe that the desire of some to return to the Tridentine Mass expresses a deep discontent with aspects of contemporary celebrations fo the Eucharist. Some people rightly long for a more reverent celebration, one that focuses on God's presence. Others remember the wonderful choirs, moving music, greater periods of reverent silence. Those are important aspects of our worship, elements which we are trying to recapture with our liturgical renewal. As you know, liturgical renewal is our Archdiocesan priority for 2006 to 2008.

It's obvious that for some reason he doesn't want to see the Tridentine liturgy make a comeback, and wants to supplant it with this liturgical renewal. It has, however, produced not a heck of a lot. True, the time line planned for the renewal is not yet complete, but in reviewing the archdiocesan website on its progress, I can find scarce little other than commentaries on the symbolic references inherent to each part of the Mass. For example, this snippet on the importance of the opening Procession:

Each Eucharistic celebration begins with procession. The movement from our homes to our church, down the aisle to the Eucharistic table. The procession is never simply about moving from one place to another but is a profession of who we are and ultimately where we are headed. Each procession reveals who we are as church. Looking at the procession reveals who is part of this community and who is included in the journey. The procession tells us something about our destiny, the Kingdom of Heaven . The joy, the music and the dance anticipate what heaven is all about. Each Sunday we are called to join in the Great Procession of God’s People who make their way from lives of individuality to lives of community. As each person joins in the perpetual movement of the Church’s procession, our lives and our world are transformed by the vision of heaven.

I see no renewal here. All I see is a documentary, and a poorly made one at that. What's this about joy in the procession? Music? Dance? This Sunday at Mass, look around during the Procession and try to find joy. How many smiles do you see? How many people still have their jackets on so they can save precious seconds on their way out of Mass when it's finally over?

What I expect in a renewal is a real call to change the way we worship. I want to walk away from a discussion on renewal with some practical things to do differently, not some clever insights. Is our bishop really calling us to dance up the aisle with the procession? Does he really perceive joy on the faces of his own parishioners at the Cathedral? Is God the object of the musical lyrics, or does the music reek of recycled feel-goodisms from the 60's?

We've got something precious in our Catholic tradition, folks. I don't fully understand what it is, as my time in the Church is far outweighed by the duration of the Latin suppression, but I know that there is something deeper there which churned out saints and martyrs for us in all ages past but doesn't quite resonate with us today.

The real corker here, as Thompson writes, is that about 400,000 Anglicans in the British Commonwealth and America are so upset with their own church's trailblazing into Hell that they have done the prodigal son thing and are asking if they can move back in with us.

Bring 'em back, I says. That we may be one. And let's make it a place they'll be delighted to rejoin.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thought Of The Day

(Not that I do these every day, mind you, but the title works, so bear with me)

Forgiveness is not like bird poop. You can't just release it and let it fall on the shoulder of somebody who has hurt you, then declare as you swoop off into the sunset, "I have forgiven him! We are now reconciled!"

This was spawned by reading a review of the book How Can I Forgive You? by Janis A. Spring, and by commenting on one of the comments.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Until Death

Meditating on the Gospel reading from this Sunday's Mass, I stumbled across an amazing truth.

In Luke 20 we are told of those pesky Sadducees, who were known primarily for not believing in the resurrection of the body, trying to "catch" Jesus with a fictional scenario of a man who married a woman and had no children through her before he died. According to Jewish law, that man's brother would have been obligated to marry her and produce an heir on behalf of his deceased brother. But in this scenario of the Sadducees' concoction, that brother also dies heir-less, and again with the third brother, all the way down the line of seven brothers.

The Sadducees thought they had him there - for which of the brothers would be her husband in the afterlife? What a pickle. Jesus, true to his divine form, blows their minds with his answer - "The children of this age marry and remarry; but those who are deemed worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."

What? No marriage in heaven? How can this be? How can she who is my soul-mate, my beloved, my better half, be apart from me in paradise? This makes no sense.

What we fail to comprehend, however, is that we fail to comprehend. There is no marriage in the next life because it is not needed. The very next thing Jesus says is, "They can no longer die."

The purpose of marriage is thus somehow inextricably connected to death. Sounds morbid, eh? But it's not... when you look at it from a particularly Darwinian perspective, it actually makes a ton of sociological sense. Marriage, when entered into properly (the only sense in which I'll ever refer to it), secures the family structure. The stable family structure is the most beneficial method of producing healthy, well-rounded offspring. Offspring, as any manatee, pigeon, or paramecium will tell you, are what keep our hope for the future alive.

This is especially so when you know you're going to die, be it 5 minutes or 5 decades from now. It is frequently quipped that nobody, on his deathbed, wishes he had spent more time at the office. I would expand that, and quip that nobody on his deathbed surrounded by his 8 children wishes that 5.7 of them didn't exist to be there. On the contrary, many dying people wish that more of their children could be with them, and that they hadn't burned so many bridges in their short spans on earth. [Heh... bridges - spans... a made a pun!]

I know that I have some readers out there who have opted not to have children, and I don't presume to judge any of you on that choice; judgment rests with God alone. Please don't absorb my thoughts on this subject as a condemnation, but rather as an invitation to consider the miracle of new life. The primacy physical, corporeal purpose for getting married is not for the unbridled pleasure of constant sex (and if any of you single & chaste people think that's what marriage is like, you're absolutely right - for the first few months), but rather to produce offspring. Why do you think God made sex so damn fun? So we'd have fewer kids?

No - he has always intended for the sexual act to include an openness to life, if not an outright intention to create life. Look to the animal kingdom for wisdom in this matter: rats enjoy sex. When given the options of stimulating their pleasure centers or eating, they invariably choose stimulation over food, until they die of exhaustion. So why do they enjoy it? What evolutionary advantage does "fun" have, if not to promote an activity frequently? And why, for a plain animal, would frequent sex be a good thing? For no other reason than it ensures that when momma possum passes on, there is a slough of baby possums to keep possums around.

Not that I'm a die-hard evolutionist, mind you, but usually the critics of Catholic teaching on sexuality also reject the concept of a Creator God. So I like to turn their own arguments inside-out against them. They don't like it when species go extinct, and they are constantly harping about how many species we haven't yet discovered which will disappear because Uncle Pélé cut down some trees around his farm in Uruguay to make room for his cattle. So if extinction is a bad thing, and if we're concerned about an obscure type of gnat never being cataloged for posterity, should we not be all the more concerned about our own species propagating prudently?

The one thing which confounds my thinking on this matter is the fact that the command to Adam & Eve to be fruitful and multiply came before the Fall (the moment they brought death into the world). Creation of new life is not therefore only something which sustains our species; it also shows us something of the nature of God, in whose image we were created perfectly. He created us as male and female - initially as man, with woman taken from his very being - and then gave us an urge to reunite. That reuniting creates new life. So what can we discern of the nature of God from this truth?

Remember that the words he spoke at creation were, "Let us create man in our own image." (Gen 1:26) Every other act of creation was an external statement: Let there be light; let the earth bring forth vegetation; let the water teem with an abundance of creatures; etc. But the creation of man was a uniquely self-involved proposition: Let us.

It is also undeniably plural. God is a triune being; Father, Son, Spirit. The interplay between the Father and the Son is a creative one, and what they create is the Spirit. The Nicene Creed states that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. Thus there is a constant creative act and a constant creative product within the very persons of God, and we are created in that creative archetype.

That, by the way, is called the Theology of the Body. Check out Christopher West for more info on it.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Peer Review

I'm an avid reader of Discover magazine, despite the overt atheism and anti-religious dogma they frequently spew on the editorial pages, articles, and interviews. A few months back I recall an interview they had with a scientist who - gasp - professed her Christian faith and did not see a contradiction between her belief and her career.

Then the magazine published letters from several readers commenting on the interview. One of them said that until proof of God's existence is published in a respected scientific journal, is subjected to peer review, and achieves consensus as authentic from the majority of the relevant scientific authorities, he will not believe.

That makes me think two things: firstly, what will God's response to that be at the Last Judgment? "Oh, wow, I never thought of that. Touché, buddy - good point! Enter in to the joy of your maker."

But second, and more important, what if the proof for God's existence happened, say, 2000 years ago? What if God defied all logic, all space and time, all physical & natural laws, and became a man? What if he cured countless diseases, healed the blind and the lame, forgave all sins, died and rose from the dead, then visibly ascended into the sky? What if all these miracles were witnessed by thousands of people over a three-year period? What if they wrote these events down to ensure future generations would know the truth of them?

Let's flip that around a bit.

What if God appeared to this letter writer, and to the scientific community as a whole, and presented proof of his existence? What if it were published in a respected scientific journal, reviewed and accepted by the majority of the relevant authorities across the world? What if everybody who encountered this proof suddenly dropped all skepticism and believed in the incarnate, triumphant Lord?

You'd imagine that the word would spread like wildfire all over the face of the earth. Hordes of people would turn to Christ and receive his saving love. The Church's numbers would swell, and the response to the touch of God in the lives of these new Christians would spurn vigourous missionary activity towards those who stubbonly remained outside that love. New saints would be called to a special breed of holiness to help fill the needs of this spiritually starving people. The Kingdom of Heaven would achieve an almost earthly incarnation of organization & structure as the Church struggled to hold to the Truth which had been revealed to it and to cast away all distortion and lies.

Our letter writer himself would become a spiritual leader in this movement; as one who had encountered the Risen Lord in such a powerful and personal way, he would have lots to say, and his heart would burn for those who were still as lost as he used to be. He would pen countless letters to these new believers, and would encourage them to uphold the Truth and to distance themselves from their former deeds of darkness.

He would eventually die and be taken up to Heaven, to the joy of his maker.

From there he could watch & intercede as time passed.

Some would see the power of this rejuvenated Church and covet it; some would see this love and hate it. The enemy of old would writhe in supreme discomfort at the thought of so many people turning to God. He would raise up his own movements to try to discount the Truth; he would spread lies, he would inspire individuals and even nations to persecute the believers, who would only hold on to their faith all the more tightly as it was tested by fire. Then this enemy would learn a thing or two, and would let the believers do their thing for a season.

He would let up the pressure, as it was directly backfiring against his plans. Instead, he would let time pass, and would let the believers grow and spread. He would instead work behind the scenes, subtly, injecting his poison into a strategic vein whenever possible. The Body of Christ remained strong, but over time he knew he could wear them down, if only they didn't detect his intent.

Let's say this happens for another 2000 years or so.

Our original letter writing saint would espy from the heavens a modern skeptic composing a letter to a widely-read periodical about how belief in this outdated belief system was naïve at best, and dangerous at worst. He would wince as the man wrote virtually the same letter he himself had penned 2000 years prior. He would pray for the man's soul, that he would be shown the Truth, and that he wouldn't require any more proof than had been provided to the world already. Fully aware of the workings of the great enemy over time, our saint would pray especially that these evil plans be revealed to the light.

He would pray that this lost sheep would realize that to believe in anything, you have to start with a single step of faith. He would pray that somebody would tell this man: "You have be willing to risk being wrong about everything, before you can know you are right about anything."

What more could God do to prove his love for his people? The very reason he came to Earth as man was to put an end to the cycle of second-generational disobedience as witnessed in the spiritual history of the Israelites. Read through the Old Testament books of Exodus, Judges, Kings, and the Chronicles. Every time God interceded in the lives of his chosen people, they believed in him, but were never successful in passing the faith and the truth of his miracles down to the next generations - at least not with any consistency. Then a generation would fall into sin, be conquered by the closest Philistine/Hittite/Persian/Babylonian/Roman army. They'd suddenly remember the stories of old, how God saved their ancestors from the same suffering, and repent and cry out to him. He would raise up a mighty warrior/prophet/king to lead them to freedom and then they would enjoy a period of peace, secure in his love, with hearts full of worship. They would tell their children and their grandchildren the tales of what God had done for them, and the kids would think to themselves, "Neh, that's just old stories where actual events are confused by the passage of time and re-telling."

Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

Ad infinitum.

Christ came to break that cycle. Believe, and be transformed!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Second Annual Report on Hallowe'en Candy Takers, Spreadsheet Style

I did this last year too, where I kept track of my Hallowe'en visitors. This year I've grouped the categories a little more closely.

Caterogy Quantity Notables
Fictional & Entertainment Characters 39 Harry Potter, Shrek, Optimus Prime, Brent from Corner Gas
Fantasy/Undead/Supernatural 39 Zombie, troll, witch, angel, devil, vampire, skeleton
Real People & Animals 17 Cat, ladybug, construction worker, ballerina, doctor
No Effort 5 Kids sure are lazy these days
Food 2 Salt Shaker, Box of Popcorn
Total 102

Last year we had 79 visitors; this year 102. I noticed a lot more vehicles escorting their children around this year.

The single most popular costume was that of the zombie (7) followed by the witch, vampire, and "no effort" all with 5.

The most impressive ones were the box of popcorn and the salt shaker - and they weren't even together.