And The Spirit Will Teach You Everything

pentecost-canzianiI spend most of my writing time talking about politics. If you devote any of your time reading about the state of our union, you undoubtedly know that the contentious nature of our politics has never been greater than it is today.

We come to our faith in the hopes of calmer and more peaceful time.

Yet, the same divisions that divide us politically, tend to filter into our faith traditions as well. We are divided there as well.

We divide over doctrine assuredly, and we divide over what constitutes proper obedience to God. We interpret differently about all too many issues, and miss along the way the truth that is offered to us in simple and complex stories, meant not to suffice as some history, but rather to teach important moral truths about us and our relationship to our God.

Yet, time and time again, when we look carefully, we find answers to our differences.

Today, on Pentecost we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit, that mysterious aspect of the Triune God that is in some sense ephemeral to us. Jesus we can “get”, for Jesus took human form, and we relate to Him in that fashion, as a person. We tend of course to do the same with God the Father, fashioning Him a “throne” and giving him a hands to hold us. The Spirit, however,  is wispy and not within our grasp physically.

Yet for us, the Spirit is perhaps the most approachable of the aspects of the Trinity. It is described in powerful language of wind and fire, things that were life-giving and life-sustaining. Wind moved the fields of grain, helped them to grow strong and thrive. It moved ships at sea, bringing us to safe harbor. Fire provided warmth, safety from wild animals, and the cooking medium for our food.

But I do not try to define the Spirit so much as acknowledge that it was a powerful physical presence to those who felt it that first Pentecost. They were astounded at its power, and perhaps, it was the seminal reason for the success of the early church. It more than anything gave proof to the teachings of the apostles who related stories of this mysterious but now departed “savior.”

And the Spirit is indeed powerful. Many attribute the Spirit for the Second Vatican Council, and its radical realignment of the Church. Many find the Spirit at work in important events of our time, drawing us together, bringing forth an unthought of consensus in our darkest of hours.

Paul said, that “No one can say Jesus Christ is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.”

That is an amazing statement and should give us serious pause.

What Paul says is that if someone declares themselves to be a Christian, they can only say that because they are filled with the Spirit of God. They have been, in a sense, stamped with approval. Who are we, then, as mere mortals, those who are to be guided by that Spirit, to dispute what the Spirit has decided?

Does not God have the ability and power to move within any person God chooses? Does God have the ability and power to deny a person the Spirit? If the answer is yes, then we must seriously ask ourselves whether it is our place to claim that this person or that person, this group or that, fail to meet some standard we have erected as to what is “Christian” and what is not. We work against the Spirit when we do this. (To say nothing of judging how the Spirit does or does not move within the hearts of other faiths not Christian)

In our drive to “understand” we take upon ourselves the audacious “right” to decide that God would or would not come to “this type of person” or “that type of group”. We not only decide what God would or would not do, based upon our human thinking, but then we “act” for God in refusing such persons or groups the full welcome due them as members of our faith communities.

I was much taken aback when I learned that at the Cathedral home of Cardinal Dolan, the following took place:

After Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote a column comparing practicing homosexuals and others who approach Holy Communion in a state of serious sin to children who fail to wash their hands before supper, homosexual Catholics and their supporters showed up for Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral with filthy hands as a form of protest, and were denied entry.

Joseph Amodeo, the organizer of the protest, said that the act of dirtying their hands was an attempt to tell Cardinal Dolan that those who practice the gay lifestyle should be accepted as they are.

The small group of about ten protesters was intercepted by NYC police, who informed them that the Cathedral would not allow them to protest the Mass. Undaunted, Amodeo and his allies proceeded to St. Patrick’s anyway, where they were informed that they were welcome at Mass, provided they washed their hands.

Amodeo said he was “astounded” by the request.

“What astounded me most was when he said that we could enter the cathedral so long as we washed our hands first,” Amodeo wrote in The Huffington Post. “Even now, writing those words I find myself struggling to understand their meaning, while coming to terms with their exclusionary nature.”

This is taking over what belongs to God in the most awful way to my mind. Surely Jesus can come to those persons Jesus chooses under the bread and wine without the help of the Cardinal or any one for that matter. Surely Jesus can refrain from joining to any person under the bread and win without help of the Cardinal as well.

We do well to remember that we are creature, not mini-gods. None of us, from the laity to the clergy stands in any different place vis-a-vis our Creator.

The Spirit goes where it will, and it affects what It chooses. Let not we poorly understanding humans get in the way.

Amen.

What of This Spirit?

holyspiritIn John’s Gospel, we have the beautiful final discourses. John places Jesus’ last words before his arrest, where they can be seen as prophesies and promises and become all the more powerful to us.

Jesus, among other things, promises that the Holy Spirit of God will come after he has left them:

The Advocate, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in my name,
will teach you everything
and remind you of all that I told you.

Surely this is not a new idea, for the Spirit of God appears as in the opening sentences of Genesis:

“In the beginning there was a formless void and the Spirit of God hovered over the waters … “

As Fr. Ron Rolheiser suggests, the Spirit is the very life force of the universe, breathing it into existence, and being the “glue” if you will, that animates and orchestrates it.

Jesus thus suggests that this Spirit of God, present since before the beginning, will be a personal presence in the lives of all who welcome it into their lives. The Spirit represents that personalized God who dwells intimately with His people.

The Father, so Jesus explains, sends His Spirit in Jesus’ name, as a sign to us that what we have learned from Jesus is in fact the Father’s will. We begin to see the interplay in this trinity of love, God, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit. All are one, one are all, each a part, yet not separate, each with its own duties, yet doing the will of all. This is mystery in its finest manifestation.

We can trust this Spirit as being of God, because Jesus has told us it can be trusted. It will teach us everything. It will remind us of what Jesus taught. Strange and opaque words are they not?

It is said by some that Vatican II showed the in-pouring of the Spirit in a most obvious way. A council that started in one direction, is captured by the Spirit, and sent on a new trajectory. Some are saying the same thing about the Pontificate of Francis.

The question becomes, will we open our minds and hearts to the working of the Spirit, confident that it can be trusted? As our dear friend Tim reminds us, much of the Hebrew Scriptures can be seen as a discourse on learning to trust this God that we have come to know. This becomes the ultimate in trust–“the spirit will teach you everything!”

But the ending statement is, I think most telling–“it will remind you of all that I have told you.”

This is the key to understanding I believe.

We are all of us, attempting to discern truth. We read the bible. We read learned and not so learned “experts”. We pray. We think. We ponder.

We all wish to believe that the Spirit guides our conclusions. We all wish to believe that we understand rightly. Some of us are very sure of that. Some of us are not at all sure. How can we be? The bible, (except for some few of us) remains a maddeningly enigmatic series of documents, difficult to define, difficult to unravel, seemingly contradictory in places and inexplicable in others. The more we study the more we realize that it is a collection of very different writings pointing in many different directions. As I said, it is only the most arrogant of persons who claims that it is obvious and clear.

Let us be honest. We are but mortals attempting to define that which is ineffable. We walk upon holy ground. We breath holy air. We are gifted with this life of short duration, a mere moment in the grand design. We are like an ant trying to discern the pattern in an area rug which we walk upon. We cannot see the expanse to make out the pattern.

Yet, we have this Spirit guiding us. And if we remember the words of Jesus, recorded in some fashion within the Gospels as they have come down to us–if we remember the ideas and the themes he brought to us, THEN these become the guide to how we might approach understanding “God’s Will”.

When our understanding is in alignment with what Jesus said, then we approach truth. When it does not, when we stretch and twist the Gospel stories to stand for things that can bear no relationship to Jesus’ world, or to the body of his teachings, then we are moving from truth and toward a self-centered non-truth that may  serve us but not the Gospel. If we must warp the Gospel to reach the place we want to go, we are most assuredly heading in the wrong direction.

We can learn “everything” from the Spirit when we use as our template the basic tenets of love, kindness, forgiveness, inclusiveness, justice, fairness, equality, patience, humility, and honesty. These are what the Master taught. We will act within the Spirit of God when we bring to every experience these qualities.

What Would Jesus Do?

The Spirit will tell you everything.

Amen.

Challenges

Today’s initial reading is from Amos (7:12-15). It seems of little importance at first, but appearances are often deceiving. In fact, when read in conjunction with the gospel reading in Mark, it raises some extraordinary questions for us.

Amos is a shepherd, and we know from history that shepherds in this time and place were lowly and somewhat held at arm’s length by the surrounding communities. They lived their lives in isolation in the hills and were rough men. You can but imagine that he had little in the way of education or social grace.

Yet we learn that God has plans for Amos. At this time, the Hebrews have split into two countries, Judah to the South and Israel to the North. Judah encompasses Jerusalem, while the religious center of Israel is Bethel.

Bethel and it’s priests under the leadership of Jeraboam, have set up a new worship practice, one not authorized by Yahweh. It is here that Amos is sent from his home in Judah to warn Israel that she is straying from the right path.

As you might assume, this Amos is met with no little anger and dismissal:The high priest Amaziah shouts:

“Go away seer, taken yourself off to Judah, earn your living there, and there you can prophesy!”

One wonders if similar thoughts coursed through the minds of the Twelve when we learn that Jesus, after being rejected in his own home town, sends off his followers to preach the “good news”.

Will they be received in similar fashion? After all, Jesus instructs them to “take nothing” not even a second tunic. They are to beg housing among strangers in these towns, and to go meekly from those that dismiss them and have no interest in their message. Did they think they were going to face the same derision and hostility that faced Amos on his mission to Israel?

Paul tells us that God chose us in him, “before the foundation of the world.”

Yet we all, at one point or other feel ill-equipped to answer the call that God makes to us.

We feel that we are not educated enough, not old enough, too old, not healthy enough, not wealthy enough to sustain the difficulties, too busy, needed by others, not worthy, and on and on. We, like so many of the great prophets of history, have excuses upon excuses. Moses stuttered, or had difficulty speaking.

Surely we can all agree that we feel unworthy of God’s choosing us to speak truth. Who are we after all? Mere mortal humans. None of us, for the most part, would feel experienced enough, wise enough, versed enough, in scripture and theology to have the audacity to go out and attempt to convert others.

And indeed all those things are true. We are not worthy. Yet we miss the most important aspect.

It is not ourselves that speak. We are not constructing some message we have thought of.

We are not alone. We have the gift of the Holy Spirit which, if we pay close attention, will lead us straight.

This is the important point that Jesus was trying to make when he sent out the Twelve with virtually nothing to fall back upon. They were to depend solely on God. They were to learn that they needed nothing further.

Of course, this has led a good many well-meaning folks to do similar things in our modern world. They have taken to the streets and stood on corners preaching to largely deaf ears. We do well to consider there are few fields to glean wheat from in the streets of New York City!

But in any case, we are told that we each have a vocation, one blessed by God, if we accept the call. And we can rest assured that when we rightly discern that call, the Holy Spirit will assist us in fulfilling our calling. That is not to say that times will always be rosy and easy, they most certainly will not, but we can know that our continued attention to the mission will prove bountiful in the end.

The Twelve were able to do great things on their trek of preaching.

They believed.

Do you?

Amen.

Amos 7: 12-15
Eph 1: 3-14
Mk 6: 7-13

I Myself Am Also a Human Being

Having settled all the immediate issues of moving to a new state, I decided that it was time to get to Mass. Here in Las Cruces, which is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, I figured I wouldn’t have much trouble finding an appropriate parish church. I settled on the Cathedral known as the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

But this is not about that, it merely sets the stage for the operation of the Holy Spirit. My experience with the Spirit, is that it usually surprises me. It pops up when I least expect it. I read the readings yesterday and was fairly certain that I would speak about Jesus’ radical statements in Jn 15: 9-17. In it Jesus sets a shocking standard–love others as GOD loves you. Since God loves with pure and complete unconditionality, it is far beyond the standard of loving others as we love ourselves.

But as I heard the first reading from Acts read this morning, I was struck by it in a way that had not been clear upon the first reading. It perhaps speaks to my ongoing tension with Mother Church–its determination to make decisions about who is and who is not welcome at the table of Christ.

In Acts 10: 25-26, 34-35, 44-48:

When Peter entered, Cornelius met him
and, falling at his feet, paid him homage.
Peter, however, raised him up, saying,
“Get up. I myself am also a human being.”

Then Peter proceeded to speak and said,
“In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.
Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly
is acceptable to him.”

While Peter was still speaking these things,
the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word.
The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter
were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit
should have been poured out on the Gentiles also,
for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God.
Then Peter responded,
“Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people,
who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”
He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Most Christians would agree that Peter was given “custody” of the religious movement that Jesus instituted. He was the Lord’s most trusted disciple, the one, presumably that he shared the most with and taught in the fullest. Certainly the other disciples were privy to most of all this knowledge as well. The Gospels report, individually and collectively, those issues and teachings that they thought were the most important, those things Jesus stressed the most.

While the Gospel today reminds us that Jesus said that our love for each other must be radical and extreme–as God’s love for us is, still we learn that the disciples were often surprised and found themselves in disagreement on many issues as the fledgling church gathered itself and became a church in fact.

Peter of course, reminds the pagan centurion, Cornelius, that he, Peter is a mortal and not to be bowed to. Peter hears Cornelius’s story about how an angel told him to locate Peter and listen to him. When he has finished describing this vision, Peter realizes that God must speak to all nations, not just the Jewish one.

And when the Holy Spirit descends indiscriminately upon the Jewish followers and the Gentiles, he realizes and proclaims:

“Can anyone without the water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?”

This is something apparently that had not occurred to Peter beforehand, and this is confirmed when we recall the arguments held between himself and the Jewish community and Paul and his new community of Gentiles. The question was, to what extent these Gentiles were required to take on the Jewish faith in order to be these new Christians.

So what is my point?

Peter and the other disciples, male and female had spent three years with the Lord. They had lived with him almost day and night. They had been privy to his every thought, his every expression. He explained the parables to them, he taught them as carefully and fully as he deemed necessary. No one could claim to know more than they.

And yet, they almost to a man and woman were not prepared to understand the breadth and depth of what Jesus taught. The fullest and deepest meaning still escaped them.

Are we to assume any more ability than they? Are we as Church, able to discern without error who is welcome at the Lord’s table?

As we are instructed to accept this or that teaching as “given”, as we are instructed not to discuss this or that rule, as we are instructed who is in sin and who is not, and how to be “reconciled”, should we not  question these limitations? For Jesus placed no limitations–love others in the radical unconditional way that God loves you. Make no distinctions, make no judgement–love period.

Peter, the disciple we trust without question to be the titular head of the Church, thereby living in perfect understanding of Jesus’ teachings, proved to not have that perfect understanding. Are our bishops and priests to be given more faith in truth than him?

Truly the Spirit seems to teach the lesson that every time you think you have loved enough, double, and triple it. Every time you think you have reached the goal, look toward the horizon and see Me beckoning you further.

God’s love is all-encompassing. Can we turn anyone away from the table except at our peril? I think not.

Amen. 

Just Ordinariness

Today we celebrate Pentecost, the official “birthday” of the Church.  And then we return to what is called, “ordinary” time. That seems an odd title doesn’t it? It suggests that we have been engaged in something important, and now we are returning to more mundane matters.

Perhaps in a sense that is true.

We have, ostensibly at least, been celebrating the Easter event for seven long weeks. I say ostensibly, because I imagine that after the last bite of Easter dinner was consumed, most thoughts began to turn to things of Spring and summer.

There were vegetable gardens to plan, flowers to plant, graduation festivities to prepare for. Summer vacations loomed in our moments of reverie as we went to work, cleaned house, and did all the usual duties of everyday living.

Suddenly, today we are struck with another Church “holiday”, that of Pentecost, and we, most of us that is, do a bit of “yeah yeah,” and return to plans for trips and long weekends at the lake or beach.

Is it strange that unlike Lent, which we seem more able to remain “in”, we cannot sustain the joy of Easter for much past that dinner? As much as we may love the Vigil Mass or the morning glory of Sunday, we pack away all our joy quickly and go about our business until the next “event.”

I’m not at all sure why that is. Perhaps it is the fact that in Lent we kind of know what to do. We give up things, we add things to do. We pray more, we limit ourselves in terms of pleasures. Post-Easter day dawns with no such instruction. We are freed from all the sacrifices of Lent, and have nothing to replace those things with. So we forget about it. Mostly.

We feel, I suspect, faintly guilty on Pentecost, because we have not been actively “preparing” in some way for the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit. Truth is, of course, we all have received that already, and we know it. The day is only to celebrate that gift, and hopefully renew in us that desire to do something with that gift as we were meant to.

So I suspect we do take Pentecost to heart–we listen to the homilies offered and think about how we can use our gift more effectively in the world. We think about it, as I said. But, ordinary time is upon us, and we quickly file away our good intentions and get onto the things of summer.

This time, ordinary time, is not ordinary at all in fact. It represents the reality of Christian life–it is mundane, it is every day. It is not exciting or filled with special dinners, or extraordinary masses and pageantry. It is where most of Christianity is lived out, in the trenches, where troubles occur, solutions are sought, accommodations are made, and realities are lived with.

It is in essence, the time when faith is usually most tested, for it is all just so ordinary. No tongues of fire, no voices from heaven, no perfect pastoral words hushing our minds and letting our souls explore eternity. The washer broke, spilling gallons of soapy water over the floor, and the plumber can’t be there until tomorrow. Maggie broke her arm and is crabby because her cast itches, and fairly nothing will appease her. David didn’t get the promotion he was hinted at, and is taking it out on the hedges and doesn’t want to talk about it.

Find God in all that, somehow, and keep on keeping your mind upon the Mass and upon the mystery of the Assumption as you intone another Hail Mary. That is ordinary–that is where we are asked to find God’s grace, love and upholding.

Ordinary time is the dirty time, of trusting in a God who isn’t so apparent, isn’t so exciting any more. It’s the hard work of growing faith in an atmosphere that is not providing you cues to help you along. It’s definitely a more “do it yourself” kind of time.

That God is all in that mess is true enough, but we have to dig Him out from under our disappointments, angers, frustrations, and fears. And that is what makes God so truly extraordinary. Because God  is  there, and when we realize that, we realize that He has always been there, always will be, and we leap forward once again on our great journey to union. Each reminder brings us a bit closer, reassures us a bit more, and makes the next bout with trouble easier to face.

So, as we enter this ordinary time once more, let us take a moment to just relax in our knowing, thanking God for being there for us, now and always. Rest in the loving embrace of grace.

Amen.

Well, I’ll Be!

There are four Catholic churches that I have designated as “possible” given my location. I went to the third on my list today.

I was expecting that it would be hands down my favorite. It is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Linn County, Iowa. The present building was built well before the 60’s.

It has the most beautiful old stained glass you can imagine. Gorgeous windows, some round, most in the traditional oval tops. They are pictures of various saints. I sat opposite St. Rose of Lima.

The pews are old, too short, so one is never quite comfortable. The altar was pulled off the original back wall and moved forward with lovely marble pillars arching behind and alongside it. The sanctuary actually is in the church, something that is rare these days.

There are actual statues gracing either side. It is thoroughly Marian, given its name, Church of the Immaculate Conception. It was dark. 

It was in a word, just my cup of tea.

But.

I felt no welcoming when I entered. It seemed cold and withdraw as did its occupants. A rosary was being prayed, which was a plus, but I noted that many seemed to sit in sullen silence. The folks in front of me discarded phones and earphones on the seat to either side of them. Their teenage daughter stood with her foot perched upon the seat, looking as bored as any 14-year-old can be, being forced to be where she clearly did not want to be.

I was still hopeful of course, since I love this type of  old church so much and usually feel my heart soaring to God upon my entrance. Yet this didn’t happen. I waited.

Things began, and I looked about and realized that this 9 am mass was the “white” mass. A mass at 12 noon was most certainly the Hispanic one – obvious since it was conducted in Spanish by the literature. Still, I expected more mixing and there was precious little.

Father is an exceptionally young man, looking at odds in such old surroundings. The parishioners are decidedly more elderly than young as well. This looks for all its worth as a parish that is in transition, the Anglos  a dying out bunch, the Hispanics clearly in the ascendency.

All went as expected until the homily. Then I realized that this Church and I were probably not destined to know one another well. I suspected of course, given its Hispanic influence, that it would be fairly conservative. That has been my experience before in a Hispanic parish in Michigan.

There, at Our Lady of Guadalupe, I had been warmly welcomed, and had fallen in quickly. I was put to work serving coffee after Mass by the second visit, and I enjoyed a lively conversation with the priest there, who was native to Cuba. It was odd, him serving a largely Mexican heritage congregation. But all seemed happy there.

This conservatism was not of ritual however. That I expected. It had to do with what Father said. And it was that all of us fine church goers should be lively in our faith, and vote, calling our state to a Constitutional Convention, where  we could enact a new amendment to “preserve traditional marriage.”

Quite a stretch in a homily devoted to how strangers turned out to be more faithful than the faithful.

No wine was served at communion, something I have never experienced before. There were no altar girls, but one woman served as a Eucharistic minister. A Catholic nun spoke for a few minutes encouraging everyone to support Birthright, an organization devoted to helping women with unwanted pregnancies, want them.

More than the usual number of folks received communion and kept on walking out the doors. Singing was lacklustre at best, and only one verse was sung of the exiting hymn.

It struck me mostly, as a lot of folks who have been going to mass for so many years that they frankly don’t think about it any more. They just do it. I felt no sense of awe, or Spirit within the building.

I, of course, don’t mean to speak for anyone there. What was going on in their hearts is between themselves and God.

I walked to my car with the strong conviction that I would not likely return, unless my “schedule” somehow made it easier to stop in there than elsewhere. They are the only church in town that holds a mass every day at noon. During Lent, they may have some choices of times that others don’t which might entice me there again. But it will be for convenience, and not because I feel “in God” while there.

I felt, decidedly as if I had missed a date with God today.

I found that odd.

Mostly I found it a shock. I guess ritual and building are a good deal less than I had thought.

Heresy or Walking in the Steps of Jesus?

I’ve been mulling over an article I read in NCR the other day. I was filled with, shall we call it, righteous anger, and knew that I best let it sit a while before commenting.

As is often the case, another bit of teaching came my way today, that pretty much foundationed my thoughts.

I was reading EFM material on year two, the New Testament. In particular I was examining the various means by which we decide what was said, and what was meant. Various types of criticism were explained.

Over against this, it was noted that some folks (the far right) chooses to find all this simply wrong; they prefer a non-intellectual approach to the bible. We, as believers are to obey, not thinking but rather accepting God’s word as given.

And, as I read, I could see rather plainly what was going on in my Church. Confused? Let me explain.

It seems that two theologians at Creighton University, a Jesuit-run institution, have been severely rebuked by the USCCB’s Committee on Doctrine, for straying from Catholic teaching on a number of social-ethical issues. This is not something new of course, but happens with some regularity within the Church, as various scriptural experts and theologians beg to differ with the Church on matters of interpretation and faith.

It remains, always to me, utterly sad. Moreover, Saltzman and Lawler’s 2008 book, The Sexual Person: Towards a Renewed Catholic Anthropology, although critically acclaimed by many, was claimed to contain “serious error and not authentic Catholic teaching.”

As I said, this is an old tradition within the Church, one that arose almost from its beginnings, and indeed it could be argued, that the Church itself coalesced around its victories over various “heresies” in the early centuries. It is much like might makes right, and to the victor belongs the right to write history.

Many would argue of course that any church has the right to defend itself against what it considers false doctrine which can mislead the flock. However, let’s face it, only a small percentage of believers ever involve themselves in theological matters let alone fine biblical exegetical points.

I think the Creighton smack down bespeaks a greater error however. And it is this: if what you believe is true, that it will stand against falsity. . .it cannot be suppressed. History is replete with this lesson. All the attempts to quash Christianity failed, because the message contained great truth. Attempts to muzzle other points of view merely suggests that perhaps you don’t feel yourself to be on very firm ground.

Worse, it defies the very scriptures that it seeks to protect. The history of Judaism is that of a people who continually argue and test scripture for meaning. Midrash is but one means by which rabbis and other Judaic teachers have mulled over, studied, and teased out the truths of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Indeed, the history of the New Testament also makes it clear that interpretation is an ongoing process. Are not the Gospels and letters attempts to re-interpret the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Paul interprets the events of Sinai and Moses as happening for out benefit and as a lesson to us. (1Cor 10:1-11) And in Gal 4:21-31, Paul interprets the stories of Sarah and Hagar as to the  Jerusalem of his day and the new Jerusalem (Sarah) born through the Spirit.

We save the best for last, for it is without question that Christ Himself interpreted scripture continuously. He interprets the commandments, he interprets Isaiah, he explains. He stood as the One who was telling his church that it was teaching falsely, without true understanding. And we know where that got Him.

Dissent goes back, indeed to Abraham himself, who felt free to question God’s decision to destroy Sodom. He argues with God!

And yet, the Church claims that dissent is inappropriate and is error. In essence, it would claim that we are to obey, leaving to them the too difficult for us, task of interpreting. They reserve the right to make the decisions about what is true and right.

Finally, Peter speaks most eloquently in 2Pet 1:20-21:

At the same time, we must recognize that the interpretation of spiritual prophesy is never a matter for the individual. For no prophesy ever came from human initiative. When people spoke for God it was the Holy Spirit that moved them. (NJB) (italicize mine)

To decree that only the Church is moved by the Holy Spirit to speak truth about scripture and the will of God, is to deny that each and every person is imbued with the Spirit upon baptism. Indeed, who are we to say that only the baptized carry the Spirit within? And we each have a solemn duty to express truth as we see it.

In the history of humanity, those ideas and beliefs that ring true, survive over time, and flourish. Those that are erroneous or weak fall by the wayside. It seems to me that if these dissident voices are finding purchase in the minds of significant numbers of the faithful, then the Vatican would do well in humility to listen carefully.

***

A significant portion of my thoughts are derived from Education for Ministry, Year II, The New Testament, Chapter 6, pgs. 58-59. (EFM is an Episcopal Church offering, consisting of a 4-year course, open to all.  For more information see: http://www.sewanee.edu/EFM/

Sophia Wisdom

 

Sophia Wisdom

 

I have been giving much thought in the last few weeks to the question: Who can know the mind of God?

It is an important one to be sure for everyone at all times, but more so for me at this time of transition in my life.

How can I know God’s intentions, his plans, more, his desires for me? If I wish to follow, then this is critically important.

My life, to this point would suggest that I have discerned the Spirit poorly, flitting from Catholicism, the religious community, away, and then to the Episcopal Church and now turning back homeward.

But I wonder, does it really?

Today’s first reading poses the question more starkly perhaps than anywhere in the Hebrew Testament.

What human being indeed can know the intentions of God?
And who can comprehend the will of the Lord?
For the reasoning of mortals is inadequate,
our attitudes of mind unstable;
for a perishable body presses down the soul,
and this tent of clay weighs down the mind with its many cares.
It is hard enough to know what lies within our reach;
who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?
And who could ever have known your will, had you not given Wisdom
and sent your holy Spirit from above?
Thus have the paths of those on earth been straightened
and people have been taught what pleases you,
and have been saved, by Wisdom. (Wis. 9: 13-18)

These words of Solomon echo in my heart as well. How, how Lord can I understand what I am to do?

I am cautioned not to rely on reason. Paul and many prophets have said as much. We are to be fools for Christ, meaning that the way of the cross is in direct contradiction to right reason. Through utter humiliation, salvation and the right path lies. We are to turn the other cheek, repay evil with good, all unreasonable, yet true.

Does this mean that our minds are worthless?

I think not. I think those who wish to contain God in a book would like to think so. The fundamentalist makes fun of learning and education, pointing to all the passages that warn of intellectual knowing. They are desperate to understand God by simple reading of the text.

Yet, I think they are wrong. God would not give us fine minds if they were not meant to be used. We are to use all our powers of discernment in finding our way in the world. We are to work with our minds to create a world in which all are free, fed, clothed, housed, attended to, as needed.

But when we seek to understand who we are and who God is, we must suspend our rational mind, because God is simply bigger than we can grasp. He is the contradiction and the paradox. We approach him with metaphor as the writers of various Biblical books did.

And where does that leave me?

I can conclude, and sometimes I do, that I am poorly translating the Spirit’s lead. I am misunderstanding somehow. But perhaps I am merely going through my learning, correcting my errors.

I am not suggesting that the Spirit directly sets us up for pain and suffering as a means to teach us lessons. No, I do not believe in a meddling God such as that.

What I do believe is that when we get some notions that are wrong, if they will become teaching moments, the Spirit remains quiet, and lets us lead ourselves into the abyss. Always ready and willing to lead us out again, to be sure, but we learn by our own willful choice.

And what have I learned? Perhaps humility. I came to Catholicism with a serious believe that it was the best and the first Church. I never let go of that. Even in ecumenical settings where I professed a belief that God reaches to people in all manner of ways, I still clung arrogantly but quietly to the smug belief that I was the better Christian by faith.

Worshiping as a Protestant and seeing things from the other side, has done much to help me to break from that ugly belief. For indeed, I do not claim any Christian faith, and certainly no non-Christian faith better than another. Only better for me, me alone, with my peculiarities and personal quirks.

I am drawn back to Catholicism because, somehow it resonates more deeply in me than any other. Not because it is the best or first. For indeed I don’t believe I could prove that if I wished to.

For those who can’t figure out why I am leaving a perfectly wonderful tradition in the Anglican Church, I can only say, that it has nothing to do with them. It has everything to do with where I am called.

Unless of course, this is but another false path in my wandering journey. Then I will, with God’s grace, learn the lesson held out for me. Until then, I do my best, more humble now for sure, knowing that I don’t know, I only believe.

Somehow God assures, that is enough.

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