"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nativity, Crucifix and an Old Favorite

At my parish, during the Eucharist, I lead the congregation in some of the more contemporary songs we use in worship. At this time of the year, the nativity sets start making their way out and one of them sits on top of the church's piano. Right above the piano is a crucifix. Thus, for these few minutes at the piano (instead of the organ) I get to see the two poles of Christ's life, birth and death, all at once. There are a number of adjectives which come to mind to describe it; poignant and touching, being among them. It really drives home exactly the reason the Christ-child was born.
But today my thoughts were slightly different. We were singing the song "Give Thanks", the chorus of which is as follows:

"Now let the weak say 'I am strong'
Let the poor say "I am rich',
because of what the Lord has done for us."

Looking at a Nativity you can see these words lived out. The poor Joseph and Mary wrapping their little one in a blanket, laying him in a manger, because there was no room in the inn. Yes, I know the reason they were out in a stable was not because they did not have any money-the place was full. But nothing looks more homely than to see a king, sleeping in the place where the cows and pigs would eat. And yet, it was at this moment, that Mary and Joseph must have understood the words quoted above. I am strong and I am rich because this little one has been made poor for me. By uniting my life to his in faith, I too make the journey from spiritual poverty to the treasures of heaven. The humble poor, with Mary and Joseph, can truly sing these words.

For even the poorest Americans, this is a hard lesson to learn. We are simply a wealthy people. Often our wealth gets in the way of understanding simple lessons. There's a reason the rich young ruler was told to sell all of his belongings. Wealth can cause us lean too much on ourselves for provision and not on God. But in that nativity you can see the real faith of a mother and father. You can see, that though materially poor, the Virgin and her husband possessed and held in their arms the greatest riches imaginable.

Lord, this Christmas season, help us to give enough away that we can understand, if even in a small way, poverty. And in that poverty, may we look to you to make us rich, through the power of the cross you were born to bear and die upon. Amen.

Saturday, December 18, 2010


The United States Senate voted on two significant bills today. As a Christian, I am dissapointed in both to some degree.

The first bill was the so-called DREAM act. This legislation would have allowed illegal immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children to become citizens. Lest anyone confuse this with some kind of blanket amnesty, there were strict conditions applied to qualify for legal status. The children who would qualify would be ones who were brought here by parents when they were under sixteen. They would have had to live in the U.S. for at least five years and have obtained a high school diploma or its equivalent.

Those meeting this requirement would then have six years to undergo a criminal background check, and either graduate from college or serve two years in the military. The bill failed on a procedural motion by a 55-41 vote. 60 votes were needed in order to ensure a filibuster by most Republicans and some Democrats could be defeated.

I am saddened for several reasons. First, how many 15 year olds (or younger) can actively defy their parents on an issue such as moving? If the parents say it is time to move, a child cannot stay behind. Those brought to this country at such a young age cannot be held accountable for the sins of their parents. For children in this situation, I would be more than happy for them to simply obtain a social security number and pay taxes like any other American. But to think, 41 senators did not think children brought here unwillingly, growing up in this culture, serving our country domestically or in the military, were unworthy to be called Americans is dissapointing to say the least.
I think our immigration laws should be enforced. Something ought to be done with those parents who willingly broke the laws; (perhaps this means a change in current law to allow them to stay here after meeting certain conditions or something else)there should be some penalty for breaking the law. But it's un-Christian and un-American to say those who have grown up here aren't Americans because of their parents.
While slightly off the subject, our immigration policy is a bit funny in light of the fact that European settlers emmigrated to this country without passports and displaced those whom we call Native Americans. I'm not arguing for large-scale amnesty. I am arguing for historical perspective. But even if you subscribe to a "round 'em up and send them home" philosophy, I cannot understand how denying American children the right to be Americans is sound policy.

The Senate also repealed the Don't Ask Don't Tell policy of the military, which will now allow gays to serve openly in the military. I do believe that sexually active homosexuals are living in grave sin. That is the historical Christian view. Thus, even though I believe strongly in civil liberties, I can't support this bill. As I have said a thousand times before, I have no animosity toward homosexuals. But I can't call their sins or my sins good, just because their/my will is inclined a certain way. I know this not necessarily a question of whether homosexuality is right or wrong, but support for the bill would be a tacit endoresement of a lifestyle choice with which I disagree.

As always, your thoughts are welcome.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Why Pornography is Wrong

With estimates showing that roughly half of American adults indulge in pornography (3 of 4 being men) I think it is important to constantly remind myself and others about the dangers and evils of pornography. It has left countless families torn to shreds and weak families make weak societies. Not to mention the fact, that ponography puts the individual soul in serious peril. There are five reasons which immediately come to mind when looking at why pornography is so gravely disordered.

1.) "You have heard it said of old...but I say whoever lusts after a woman in his heart has already committed adultery." (Mt. 5) When Jesus clarifies the teaching of the 10 commandments, he leaves no wiggle room. Lust all by itself is adultery. I don't believe there is anyone who looks at and uses pornography who does not use it to excite lust. Therefore, pornography falls under our Lord's condemnation as a grave moral error tantamount to the physical act of adultery.

But that is only the beginning of the problem-it is actually far worse than being guilty of a singular sin.

2.) Objectification-Whether a man or a woman, by looking at pornography you are making those you view objects. Instead of people with inherent dignity they are treated as means to achieve the end of physical pleasure. The mindset which that develops is completely backward. Instead of being the servants we are called to be, we force the object of our desire to do all for us. The image on screen is not two (in some cases more) people, but objects the viewer essentially manipulates for his or her pleasure. You think it's hard to teach children, particularly young men, about real beauty now, wait for another generation that has been saturated in pornography. It will be well nigh impossible. If woman are seen only as objects what are the chances of ever defeating domestic violence?

3.) This leads into the next reason pornography is evil. When St. Paul writes of marriage in his Episle to Ephesus (a passage few people understand when they hear it at a wedding) he cannot help but lapse into talking about Christ and his Bride, the Church. When he speaks of the husband giving everything for his wife (for what else does it mean when he commands the husband "to love") and the wife in turn serving her husband, he is speaking of participation in the mystery of Christ's love for his Church. Jesus gave everything he possibly could for his bride, to become her lover, to consummate the divine marriage. He held nothing back, not even his life. What does the viewer of pornography give to the so-called actors? Nothing! He/she takes whatever they want and give nothing. Sex is to be communion between two people, an image of Christ's love for the Church. Viewing sex from a distance is inherently disordered because it is meant to be something in which there is active giving of oneself to the other. That is what real love is.

4.) Pornography is ultimately the most effective form of birth control. I've argued in other places that birth control is wrong. But in those cases I was arguing against condoms and the pill. In the case of pornography, the sexual act is often simulated by the viewer. In the male ( I won't speak for women here) this involves, to use the language of Genesis, the "spilling of one's seed." This was the sin for which the man Onan was put to death by God. It is clearly not something which the Lord takes lightly. Returning to Ephesians five, it is notable that marital relations are a picture of Christ's love for his Church. Let's think about this. What is the result of Jesus dying for his Church? Life for all who believe. What is the result of sex? Procreation...life! Not everytime of course. Nor is a revival started every time the gospel is preached. But sexual acts intended for pleasure which actively cut off the possibility of life, are like a church service where there is no gospel. In love, particularly in conjugal love, nothing should be held back. In pornography, not a thing is given.

5.) Lastly, you cannot love your neighbor as yourself and be a person who watches pornography. How can you claim to have the best interests of the "actors" at heart, when you are essentially paying for them to engage in acts which lead to severe emotional distress, possible HIV infections, abortions, and likely a whole host of other things that slip my mind at the moment. People need to understand how much pain many adult film stars report after they retire. In many cases they are devastated. You become an active source of that pain by participation in pornography.

What does it mean to be human? As those who are created in the Image and Likness of God, it must mean that we are creatures meant to live in community and in love with another (just as the Most Holy Trinity does.) To love is to put the interests of the Other before your own. To love is to hold nothing of yourself back from the Other. In the respects outlined above, pornography seeks the pleasures of receiving love without giving it. And because it is in giving that we are able to truly receive, pornography prevents its viewers from experiencing true love-whether they are married or single. The joy of being a part of the Church is the joy of serving the Lover who gave all he had. Joy will be found in our culture's marriages when the same thing can be said. Let us then pray for God to forgive our lust, selfishness, and lack of love, and that he will bend our wills away from anything that would cause us to act against the interests of others.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Church Teaching and Arrogance

I recently posted a Facebook status and preached a sermon dealing with the necessity of Christian unity in the promotion of evangelism. It was received lukewarmly in both mediums. But I was struck by the words of one person who said "I don't know how you can talk about Christian unity when you won't even consider other people's point of view."

I admit, this comment stung. Its foundation is that I'm prideful, arrogant, and unwilling to admit that I could possibly be wrong. It's particularly hurtful because for many years I struggled with an almost unbridled arrogance and have felt that in the last 5-7 years I have made progress in being more humble.

It's also hurtful though because it is false. When it comes to the Christian Faith, there can only be one right answer to each individual matter of doctrine. By my late teens, I was on a mission to find out what I believed and why. I had grown up as a fairly evangelical, low-church, reformed Anglican. If you would have asked me my primary purpose as a Christian, I would have have likely answered "evangelism". If you would have asked me how a person is saved I would have launched into some diatribe about Calvinism and how grace is credited to some invisible bank account because of the faith of the believer in the person of Jesus Christ. Anything else I would have probably considered unimportant or ancillary.

But when I decided to attend a Catholic college, I made it a point to open myself up to experiencing new Christian traditions. It is because of this that I am no longer anything of a predestinarian-(though there are still questons in my mind about forensic and inherent justification). It is because of this, that I am a proud Anglo-Catholic who thinks that worship of Almighty God and participation in the sacramental life of the Church are my top priorities. Now one could say that I just changed my mind on some issues and I'm now as stubborn in my views as I ever have been. But that is where you would make your greatest error.

The reason I'm Catholic is because I wanted my thoughts and the doctrines I believed, to be those which were believed by Christians for the last two millenia. I wanted my thoughts to be framed not only by the living but by the dead. I desired the influence of the great theologians and mystics of the past-Augustine, Aquinas, Bernard, Theresa, Catherine, and Faustina, to name a few.

The Faith to which I hold, is the faith of the universal Church. Yes, that does mean I reject innovations of the last several hundred years-dispensationalism, Calvinism, and anti-sacramentalism come immediately to mind. But it is not because I'm being arrogant and carving out some theological niche for myself. I believe what I believe because it is what, as St. Vincent said, has been "believed everywhere, always, and by all." I'm not naive. I'm familiar with the arguments against the development of doctrine in the Catholic Church, particularly after the seven ecumenical councils.

But my positions are those which have been held from the beginning. It is not arrogance to submit my will to Mother Church's teachings-rather, it is a form of humility to say "I don't understand all of these things, but I accept them anyway." Truly, I can say I have opened myself up to the possibility that I was very wrong-and have made changes accordingly. Furthermore, as I hinted at above, there are important doctrines on which I lack a clear understanding and am still trying to learn.

By God's grace, I will ever remain open to seeking the Truth. My prayer for all people in the Church is to give fair voice to the chorus of opinions of our forebears. It is odd that in a country as committed to the democratic system as the United States, we often forget to look at the majority opinion in matters of religious doctrine.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Solemnity of Christ the King

Tomorrow marks the Sunday next before Advent, which we know as the solemnity afore mentioned. The Holy day was pronounced by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It is a wonderful feast intended to counter the secularization of the world and the rise of powerful national leaders. There is but one King-and he is all-powerful and reigns over this world and the world to come. (Though his rule over this one has yet to be consumated-hence the placement of this feast just prior to period where we look and prepare for our Lord's second coming when every knee will bow to him.)

While this Solemnity is relatively new to the Church's calendar, it should be pointed out that the last Sunday before Advent has always been dedicated to celebrating the Kingship of Christ. In the Anglican Church, the lectionary points us to a strange place for the Epistle lesson. The appointing of this reading makes it evident that role of Christ as King of the Cosmos it to be at the center of the liturgy on this Sunday. From Jeremiah 23 we read these words:
"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth...and this is his Name whereby he shall be called "The LORD our Righteousness."

This has been the reading appointed for hundreds if not thousands of years for tomorrow. It is one of the precious few times that the Epistle is taken from something other than the Apostolic letters. A point is being made here. Thus, while the feast of Christ the King is new, the Church has dedicated tomorrow for a long while to remembering that the individualism we so often celebrate as the greatest good is actually an inversion of the reality that there is a Mighty Ruler who exists outside of us and this earth. His name is Jesus.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Oscar Hammerstein and Me

For those of you who may check up on my blog periodically, I apologize for the lack of posts and hope that you will continue to check for updates. It has been an unusual season of life for me. I'm very tired. I took on too much work this year. Between teaching 25 piano lessons a week, spending nearly nine hours in other classrooms (including one in Philadelphia), rehearsing for performances of Berlin's White Christmas in December, all the grading and planning, plus dealing with the non-stop barrage of visitors to see my ailing grandmother (not to mention the stress from watching her slowly fade), blogging has simply been at the bottom of my to-do list. I hope that this will change soon.

As I sit here this morning, finally with a few minutes to write, I cannot think of anything to say. Which reminded me of something I read recently which some of you might find interesting.

In one of the more famous pieces from the Sound of Music, the Von Trapp children sing the song Do-Re-Mi. Their governess, Maria, tries to teach them the solfege syllables by giving definitions and illustrations of each syllable. "Do-a deer, a female deer" is one example. But for those of you who know the whole song, you know there is one line which sounds like Hammerstein just ran out of ideas. If you have ever thought that, you are absolutely correct. "La, a note to follow Sol" was intended to just be a placeholder until Hammerstein could think of a better line. However, that time never came. Incredibly, one of the most noted lyricists of the last century suffered with a bout of writer's block which was never rectified. It's almost comical when you think about the line-once you know it was intended to be a filler, it sounds ridiculously out of place.

Consider this post my "La, a note to follow Sol".

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Evolution and Creation

For my entire life I have heard people arguing over whether Creationism or Evolution best explains life as we know it. I don't understand all of evolutionary theory, though my understanding is that current research tends to indicate that humans and the great apes share a common ancestor. (We'll ignore for a moment that fact that if this is true, natural selection did not work out so well for the great apes.) Whether this claim is true or not, it does nothing to negate a belief in creation, or the God who created. If humans share an ancestor with other primates our ancestor was the product of his ancestor, and that ancestor had an ancestor as well.

The problem of using evolutionary theory to explain the origin of our species or of our world, is that you cannot have an infinite regression of causes. At some point, there had to be an uncaused cause...an unmoved mover. Something simply cannot evolve out of nothing. Something, whether it be mankind or the primordial ooze out of which our ancestors sprang, was first created. You can look at a line of dominos all day, but they won't begin to fall until a force moves the first one. Christians call this unmoved Mover, this uncaused Cause, God.

Can evolution and creation be reconcilled? Absolutely. Is there any way to sanely argue that something can come from nothing? Absolutely not. No one can force you to believe the narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. Even many Christians think this is a symbolic account of creation. But you cannot deny that something outside of this world, acted to produce the first things that evolved. My lack of scientific understanding gives me pause from commenting one way or the other on the topic of macro-evolution, but I am confident that whatever large scale changes may have occured to produce humans as we know them could never have begun without God first creating something.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Election Predictions

It's been a couple of months since I made known my prognostications on the upcoming midterms. I am confining my analysis to the battle for the Senate, as analyzing the races for the house is daunting and better left to the pros.
Without further ado, the competitive races.

Democrats have a legitimate opportunity at picking up 7 GOP held seats. Now, when I say "legitimate opportunity" I mean there is reason to believe they could win. The vast majority of these 7 are likely to stay red this cycle. The states are KY, OH, MO, NH, FL, NC, and AK.

Let's begin with some fairly obvious observations. Polling has indicated that OH and MO are just about out of reach for Lee Fisher and Robin Carnahan, democrats both. In fact, Quinnipiac university, a poll that typically skews 1-2 points democratic showed Republican Rob Portman (OH) staked to a 20 point lead yesterday. Astounding in a state Obama carried by 4 points. Roy Blunt's lead over Carnahan isn't nearly as large, but it's been slowly growing and has not slipped below mid-single digits all summer. Hard to see either of these seats flipping.

KY is interesting because the GOP nominee Rand Paul is a libertarianish Republican running against a run of the mill democrat. In a state that values social conservatism and populist/left-of-center economic policies, neither candidate is a perfect fit. Additionally, Paul, right after his nomination, got his foot caught in his mouth regarding the Civil Rights Act. (States rights is a legitimate debate, but any candidate for national office ought to know there are better ways to bring up the issue of Federalism than challenging the Civil Rights Act.) That said, it's a GOP year and KY has trended Red at the national level. Polling is showing Paul with a lead of 5-7 points. As long as he avoids any more gaffes, Paul should be quite alright.

NH is another state where the Republican, Kelly Ayotte, has maintained a small, statiscally significant lead. There is simply no reason to rule out Paul Hodes, the democrat. But no good reason to say his chances are increasing. Polling has been pretty steady in Ayotte's favor. Two polls released after this past Tuesday's primary showed Ayotte with 4 and 7 points leads. The former is probably on the low end with the latter on the high end. Ayotte is winning, and the race is hers to lose. I believe she holds Judd Gregg's seat.

Florida is becoming less and less complicated. Two polls have staked Marco Rubio to double-digit leads this week. Many predicted this would happen. Kendrick Meek, the democratic nominee, has begun to solidiy his base and is stealing possible voters from Charlie Crist, the GOP turned Independant candidate. Crist is in am impossible situation of trying to draw enough Republicans (who he has infuriated by switching parties) and enough democrats (who see a possible pickup opportunity if Crist and Rubio split conservatives). The problem for Crist is that he simply can't be everything to everyone. His best chance would have been to tack right and draw a genuine split of conservatives while maintaining his good standing among unaffiliated voters. Meek might have won in this scenario. As it stands, trying to occupy the middle ground will keep Meek at arm's length and allow Rubio to pull away. Leads of 11 and 14 this week show that has begun.

The five races above are all open seats. I don't believe the democrats will win any of them. But they represent the best targets.

We must also consider NC. Rasmussen showed a poll that had Burr (R) leading Marshall (D), by 24. It was probably an outlier, considering Burr is not particularly popular. But the state is conservative and in a GOP year, that bodes well for Burr to hold his seat. He is running a very effective ad right now, and I believe he ends up holding this seat by double-digits.

AK must also now be considered a possible pickup-and quite frankly, it may have jumped the other 6 seats which were thought to be possible pickups. Joe Miller won the GOP nod in a shocking upset of Lisa Murkowski. Miller is the favorite against his democratic opponent, but that will be jeopardized now that Murkowski has decided to run a write-in campaign. Can she get roughly a third of Alaskan voters to write in her name? Doubtful. Can she get enough to thwart Miller? Not impossible at all.

In fact, based on limited polling, and Mark Begich (D) winning in 2008, all she would need is to siphon 10-12% of the vote to make it extremely close between Miller and Mcaddams. I still see this as a hold, but I'm watching for more polls on the race.

All of this means that for the democrats to hold their majority they will have to make sure the GOP doesn't pick up 10 seats they currently hold. This has gotten a bit easier since my last writing.

For Sures: When I last commented, AR, IN, ND, and DE were considered locks for GOP pick ups. Christine O'Donnell's win in the DE GOP primary certainly take this off of the "for sure" list and probably should be said to be leaning heavily toward the democrat Chris Coons. O'donnell raised close to 1.5 million in the two days after her shocking win. She'll have the cash to make her case to Delaware. But a strong conservative in a deep blue state, already trailing by 11 according to the most recent poll, is probably not in great shape for a pick up. Nonetheless, the other three remain locks for the GOP. (That would make a 56-44 democratic majority)

Then there is a list of possible pick up opportunities which I don't believe the GOP will get. These states include CT, CA, and WA.

In CT, Richard Blumenthall lied about his Viet Nam record. That combined with his opponents huge personal fortune have helped the GOP's Linda McMahon pull to within mid-single digits in a fairly liberal state. We will keep a close-eye on this one, but my gut tells me this state stays blue. McMahon has also come under scrutiny for how the WWE, of which she was CEO, goes about its business.

In CA, Carly Fiorina is right on Boxer's heals. But almost all polling has shown just that. On her heels but never pulling in front. Fiorina has money and may benefit from social conservatives angry about proposition 8 being overturned in court. Remember, Obama sailed to victory in 2008 in CA because of a very strong performance with the states Hispanic voters. These voters are heavily Roman Catholic and could easily be persuaded to switch sides in this election to vote for Fiorina. We'll see about this one.

WA-Three straight polls have given incumbent Patty Murray a lead of 5-9 points. That's significant. I never thought this would be an easy pick up. I think it will be close but no cigar for GOP retread Dino Rossi.

This leaves a swath of states including NV, IL, WI, PA, WV, and CO.

All of these races are competitive. But I would point out that Pat Toomey has run an excellent campaign in PA and has lead by high single digits for awhile. Joe Sestak could win, and his Philly roots will help. But he is pretty liberal and I don't think he's fully recovered from the mini-scandal over whether the White House offered him a job if he didn't primary Arlen Specter. CO's Ken Buck does not have anywhere near as comfortable a lead, but his small lead has been consistent. His opponent, Sen. Bennett, has been hit hard with his votes for the stimulus and for his role in a public school property scandal. I believe both of these seats will flip. (54-46)

WI is a slightly left-of-center state, represented by the faily liberal Russ Feingold. His opponent, businessman Ron Johnson, has a post-primary lead of 7 points. Now that's from Rasmussen (a pollster whose house effect is 1-2 point Republican) and it is likely that that 7 points comes partially from a bounce. Still 7 points is significant and in an anti-incumbent year you don't want to see your opponent over 50%. At 51% that is exactly what Russ Feingold is seeing. I've become a believer on this race. I think Johnson will upset Feingold. (53-47)

WV is a hard nut to crack. The most recent poll shows Gov. Brian Manchin leading GOPer Maes by 5. Manchin, the democrat, is wildly popular (in the 70% range.) But Barack Obama is equally unpopular and the GOP is making the case that Manchin would, despite his rhetoric-and perhaps best intentions-become a rubber stamp for Obama's policies. The question really is how independant can Manchin prove himself to be. Very little polling has been done of this race so it's hard to establish a trend. But Obama is truly toxic here. This seat could flip. Yet, at this point, there is not enough evidence to warrant giving it to the GOP. Furthermore, if all politics really are local, Manchin's popularity should win out over Obama's unpopularity. For now, we will keep this as a democratic held seat.

With that in mind, it is all but impossible for the GOP take over the senate. A seat that is currently not considered in play would need to become so (more on that in a minute.) But the other two states on our current list are truly coin flips at this point. In NV, the last 13 public polls have been astoundingly consistent in terms of the margin separating Harry Reid and Sharron Angle. Of those 13 polls, 9 show Reid leading (7 by two points or less, one by three, and one by four.) Three show Angle leading, none by more than 2 points. One poll showed a tie. The numbers indicate an ever so slight advantage for the incumbent. But Reid's approval numbers and the fact that he is consistently polling in the mid-40's show that the voters of Nevada just need a good reason to vote for Sharron Angle. Her gaffes and some truly very right-wing views do seem to put her slightly at odds with Nevada's electorate, but Reid is simply so unpopular that that might not matter. We'll have to wait and see. I suspect we'll be waiting up very late on election night to see the results of this race as well as California's. I'm going to go out on a limb (a strong limb in this case) and call the upset for Angle.

Illinois is simply a case of two scandal-ridden candidates who no one appears to like. Mark Kirk, a GOP moderate is taking on Alexis Giannoulis. Mr. G's family bank went under and Kirk also greatly exaggerated his resume, particularly regarding his Viet Nam service. A spate of recent polls show neither candidate hitting 40 percent. That's rather remarkable. There are a couple of minor candidates in the field, but generally the electorate is undecided. Illinois and Michigan are probably the most liberal states in the mid-west and plane states. My thought is that people will default to this and give Giannoulis the win. Barack Obama will undoubtedly be able to campaign here as well. He's lost some points in his home state, but remains popular. With these two races, the senate would sit at 52-48 in favor of Team Blue.

Honorable mention: NY I said I would return to "another state" in a minute. From the time Kristen Gillibrand was appointed to Hillary Clinton's senate seat to the moment that Rudy Guliani and George Pataki said "no" to challenging her, this was thought of as a pick up opportunity. Since the "no", it's been thought that Gillibrand was mostly safe. The two most recent polls of the state show here with leads of 15 (Quinnipiac) and 20 (Rasmussen). Now her opponent has a lot of room to grow as he is not well known. Also, it should be pointed out, that Rasmussen only surveyed 500 people in a very large state. I think that could skew the results. Q polled almost 1500, for perspective. A 15 point lead is nothing to look down on, but when an incumbent is only polling at 43% (which is where Q shows her) there is the potential for an upset. An article by Dick Morris came out today arguing that Gillibrand was beatable and that she wasted the Summer not going to the voters. This race is on the very edge of my radar screen. I won't discount the possibility of a party switch. But I say it's doubtful at this point.

So 52-48 would be the result. For the record, the strongly democratic years of 2006 and 2008 would back up this number. In 2006 the Democrats gained 6 seats. In '08, with Obama at the top of the ticket, they picked up 8 seats. I'm forecasting 7 seats flipping in this election.

As always, let me know what you think!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Can Non-Christians Go To Heaven?

The answer to this question in an unequivocal "no". Jesus makes the exclusive claim in the Gospel according to St. John that he is the "Way, the Truth, and the Life."
(14:6) However, while it seems that I have answered the question, the truth is that I slighly evaded it. What every Christian must believe is that no man can come to the Father except through Christ. What the Christian does not have to say is that the religion known as Christianity is necessary for a person to go to Heaven.

Before I proceed further, I am in no way discounting the role of the Church in Christian life. The Church and her sacraments, her reading and preaching of the Word of God are generally necessary for the Christian's nourishment. What I am saying is that I think it is possible that some people discover Christ outside of the boundaries of we think of as the Church. This does not mean that Jesus is the same as Bhudda. It does not mean that Jesus is the same as Krishna, or any other false deity. What it means is that adherents of false religions, while lacking the fulness of the truth (in some cases greatly lacking), can enter the Kingdom of Heaven because they do the will of the Father. (Mt. 7) This also does not mean, we are saved by what we do. It means that Christ's grace can work through even the followers of a false Religion.

Is this a pipe dream? A way of saying everyone's ok, no need to convince others of Christ? It isn't that. We know of one sure way to reach Heaven and that is Christ and the Church he gave us. But in terms of holding out hope for other people, I offer you the story of the Good Samaritan. Lost in the story of what it means to love and what it means to be neighborly, is the fact that the person doing the loving of neighbor in this story is someone that held to a religion Jesus condemned when speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. The whole story is predicated on the questions of "how do I inherit eternal life?" Jesus answers with living out the two great commandments. The parable then indicates that a theological heretic, who believed in God, but believed wrong things about him and worshipped incorrectly (wrong mountain-again a reference from John 4), had done what was necessary to inherit eternal life.

Where does that leave us? Again, evangelism of those holding to the mono-theistic religions which are not Christian is absolutely still a good and necessary thing. We have an assurace of salvation only in Christ. But I think we also have reason to believe that those who trust in God (by whatever name they know him) and seek to live in charity with all men (the great commandments) might join we Christians in heaven.

The answer to the question in the title then is this: We go to heaven because of Christ, but some might find Jesus in places most Christians wouldn't think to look.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Thoughts on Justification

This is not an attempt at a thorough explanation of the doctrine of justification. Nor is this an attempt to bridge gaps and build understanding between parties who disagree. It is simply a few observations that I have been considering.

In our parish's mid-week Bible study we have begun considering St. Paul's letter to the Romans. Along with his letter to the Galatian Church, these two epistles have been the bedrock of Protestant claims that justification is by faith alone. However, Catholics have long argued that this teaching must be balanced by St. James' teaching that justification is not by faith alone, but also by works. Jesus Christ himself seems to lay some emphasis on this also by claiming eternal life belongs not to those who call on the name of the Lord, but who do the will of the Father.

What has struck me recently, however, is how full the Epistle to Rome is with references to the need for good works. "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified." (Rom. 2:13) Anyone arguing for justification by Faith alone hits a serious wall in this verse. In fact, read all of chapter 2 and you will find a number of references to God "rendering unto man according to his deeds." V. 6. It must be noted that good works avail nothing without faith. But it is of equal note that faith without good works means nothing.

This all seems well and good until you read chapter 3 and discover that St. Paul also wrote this: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justifed by faith, without the deeds of the law." Whoa! Where did Paul get this? Isn't that the polar opposite of what he said in chapter 2? Not quite. Actually, not at all. What chapter 3 is teaching, is that no prior deeds of charity, no prior act of obedience, is necessary or counts for anything, until the individual has Faith. The act of believing in Christ and his life and death's work is what brings justification. But it must be noted that justification is something in which we must continue. Rom. 2:13, James chapter 2, and a host of other passages speak to the necessity of obedience, charity, and virtue for the believer. They are not optional!

While Jesus himself makes little mention of justification in the Gospels, I've been considering whether or not he takes this controversy head on in the Parable of the Sower. You may recall that the Sower (Christ) sowed the seeds that landed among thorns. (Some also fell by the wayside, some on rock, and some of good soil.) But of the seed that fell in thorns, this is written: "and the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness or riches, and the lusts of other things entering in, choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." (Mark 4:19) In order for something to become unfruitful, it must have produced some fruit at some point, or have had the potential to produce fruit. As anyone who has ever observed the natural world knows, a plant can grow amidst the thorns and weeds, but it is eventually choked. Is this not a corrolary to those who have initial faith, but do not proceed in charity and obedience? Did they have the faith that receives justification, but fail because of greed and lust to persevere in that justification? If it is true, the parable teaches that justification has two sides. 1.) What Christ imputes to the sinner-that which needs no prior act of obedience or love (Rom. 3:28). 2.) What is required of each man as a result of that justification-doing the deeds of the law to be justified (Rom. 2:13) For those who refuse the law of God are the ones who are choked out by the lusts, greed, and cares of this world.

What is the end of all this? Though I've never liked the musical setting, there is a hymn which says it well.

"When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his Word,
What a glory he sheds on our way.
When we do his good will, he abides with us still,
And with all who will trust and obey."

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ground Zero Mosque

Lots of ink has been spilled in recent days on whether or not Muslims can or should build a Mosque, or Islamic Community Center, in the shadow of the former Twin Towers. The question of "can" is fairly simple. The Constitution protects both Private Property rights and the Freedom of Religion. Whether Islam is a false religion or not, the right to practice it remains.

The question of should is a bit more problematic. No one questions that the members of Al-Qaeda who carried out the attacks were professed adherents of Islam. Whether they were practicing a bastardized form of it or not, they did carry out the attacks in the name of Islam. Thus, it would appear that it is highly insensitive to build a Mosque that closely.

But what if you look at it from the other side? I don't believe Islam is an inherently violent religion. Perhaps Mulisms in NYC see this as an opportunity to show they can be peaceful. In essence, they can redeem their religion from the blot their so-called "brothers" placed on it. If this is the case, it makes sense to build the Mosque.

I tend to side with saying the project should move forward. As I said, I don't believe Islam to be inherently violent, and it therefore does not pose any civic danger to NYC. As a side note to Christians who oppose this: Be careful what you do. The Bush administration effectively gutted parts of ammendments 1, 4, and 6. Liberals have their known bias against the 2nd. Intolerance for other religions can quickly be turned back on us. What we should be doing is our best to put this mosque out of business by preaching the Truth to Muslims. Getting the government to squash the proejct or actively protesting it only invites similar retribution. (Do you really want Muslims protesting the less honorable Crusades outside St. Patrick's?)
Preaching the Gospel is the only way to effectively counter this. In the meantime, let's be civil. Islam is not violent. Let's all continue operating under the protection of the first amendment and by God's grace our Lord's prophecy that the gates of Hell will not prevail against his Kingdom will be found to be true.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Undivided Hearts

"Give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name." Ps. 86:11b

I came across this verse in my reading several weeks ago and it has really stuck with me. The two parts of the verse don't quite seem to fit together. You might expect "Give me an undivided heart, and I will praise you," or "I will love you." Why "fear your name"?

I think the answer is that Jehovah was to the Kingdom's surrounding Israel a God to be feared. When he fought on the side of his people, Israel, the outcome of the war was certain. This fact did not go unnoticed by the Israelites, at least not always. Many Hebrews over the generations knew they were to fear the LORD. They also knew, as we ought to know, that the fear of the Lord is the first step in learning to love God. But you cannot fear the Lord if your attention is diverted from him. From personal experience, I can relate how easily this happens, as I'm sure anyone reading this can.

It is too easy to be caught up in the ways of the world and make God almost an afterthought. We forget that he will judge our misdeeds. An illustration might help. There could be a venemous snake under a nearby bush. I should fear that snake. But I will not if I have forgotten that it is there. That is why I have been mediating on this verse. "Give me an undivided heart." For when my heart is focused on God and who God is, ultimately my Judge, I will fear him and in due time, begin loving him for who he is.

And really, this is the essence of the Great commandment. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. With all! There are to be no divisions within ourselves. Completely undivided we are to give ourselves to Jesus. Fear and genuine love of God's truth, righteousness, and mercy will be the natural fruit.

Pray for an undivided heart.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

On the Invocation of Saints

As an Anglo-Catholic there are few beliefs I hold which irritate other Anglicans and Protestants as much as my belief in the practice of invocing the prayers of the Saints. I would like here to offer a brief defense of the practice and conclude with why I believe it to be an important practice.

There seem to me to be two main objections praying to the saints...
1.) We should only pray to God, through Christ.
2.) The Saints are dead, they cannot hear our prayers.

I would be happy to answer any other objections if a reader thinks I have over-simplified these issues.

The first objection raised usually takes its roots in a verse St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy. "There is one Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus. (I Tim. 2:5) To this "objection", I would give a hearty "amen". Yes, there is but one Mediator, one go between, for humanity and the Father. The problem with this objection is that it does not stand up as a problem for the doctrine of invoking the prayers of the saints. After all, I would ask anyone I know to pray for me, if I needed prayers for something. That is not undermining the role of Christ as High Priest and Mediator. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that there is a power in corportate prayer. When we ask the saints to pray for us, such as in the Ave Maria, we do not ask the Blessed Mother to go to the Father, but we ask her to pray to her Son; for not even the most glorious of God's creations has access to the Father except through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). Thus, objection #1 fails because the practice does not seek to circumvent Jesus, but to bring more prayers and petitions before him.

The second objection misses some key points. First, the Saints are not dead. Two passages from the Revelation of St. John (6:9-10, 8:3-4) show that the Saints are quite alive and, surprise, surprise, praying! Now, of course, it would be naive to say we have the same level of communication with those who have died as when they were on earth. But as the Scripture plainly teach, there is but one Body of Christ. Therefore, even in death, the Church militant remains united to the Church triumphant. So it is not a stretch to say our communion with the Church on the other side of the vale allows for them to hear us. But I believe this opinion is cemented as fact by the cry of the Martyrs, cited above, from the Revelation. Their question "how long?" until they are vindicated indicates they are more than well aware of what is going on on earth. Aside from this, we have the testimony of Hebrews (12:1) that the saints are a "great cloud of witnesses" surrounding us. As witnesses, they must see and hear what we do. The weight of the evidence suggests that the saints are alive, aware of earthly conditions, and disposed to praying.

Of course, there are not any biblical references of praying TO the deceased. But there does not need to be. There are many things we are not commanded to do, but we do because they are logical and allowable. Furthermore, this practice helps make our prayers more effective. Not necessarily because it means more people are praying (though that does help). St. James teaches us that "the prayer of the righteous man avails much." (James 5:16) Those of us who believe have the righteousness of Christ within us to varying degrees. But the Saints in heaven are fully free from sin. They are more righteous than we are. Therefore, their prayers avail much more than our own.

With all this in mind, I have posted below one of my favorite versions of Ave Maria. This is the Bach/Gounod arrangement performed by Carmen Monarcha.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Political Musings

I would like to look at the horse race for the U.S. Senate. There are 17 seats which are potentially in play this coming elections (that is, a person from the party out of power could win the election.)

I believe there are 11 possible pickups for the Republicans. There are 6 potential pickups for the Democrats. You will find each state listed below in an order I think reflects their likelihood of changing parties.

Republican Pickups-
I have little doubt of these:
North Dakota (Byran Dorgan would have faced a tough re-election, without him running the dems don't have a prayer.)
Indiana (The Bayh name was a household one in Indiana-made it easy for Evan to win a couple of terms. Without him on the ticket, even conservadem Ellsworth won't hold the seat for the party.)
Arkansas-research tells me that the Republicans have held a Senate seat only one term in the last century in this state. Nevertheless, Lincolne trails her Republican challenger by 25 points in the polls-I don't think she holds on.

Republicans should pickup-
Delaware-Mike Castle has been the long-time at large representative of the state. He is a moderate Republican and acceptable to a state-wide electorate. I'm tempted to move this to the above category. Two problems to that-1.) It's Joe Biden's old seat. 2.) Delaware has voted heavily democratic in presidential elections.
Colorado-the state has trended democratic, and voted for Obama in '08. But an appointed senator fills Interior Secretary Ken Salaazar's seat-not an easy sell in a swing state. Polling looks decent for team Red-I say a pickup.
Nevada-Harry Reid was tasked with the unfortunate job of passing healthcare. It was not overly popular in his state, but if he didn't do it, he looked incapable of passing Obama's agenda. His approval is stuck in the low 40's and has been for sometime. He got a break with a Tea Party candidate who apparently at one time favored prohibition winning the republican nomination. Even still, Rasmussen showed her leading Reid by 11 points this morning (significant even for a pollster who has had a Republican house effect this cycle.)

Republicans pickups that likely won't be-
Washington-Dino Rossi has lost two statewide races. That says something. Patty Murray doesn't exactly have a distinguished career-but has done nothing deserving ouster. Rossi is talented and I think will make it close-could even win-but I don't think so.
California-Fiorina was not the best choice to face Barbara Boxer. She'll make it close and her money may matter. But she had a hot mic moment this morning and her views on immigration will not maker her a darling to anyone in the southern part of the state. Close, but no cigar.
Pennsylvania-perhaps the most interesting race of the cycle. Sestak is too liberal for the state at large, and Toomey is too conservative. The fact is, while he may be a SOB who cares about nothing but his job, Specter was a decent ideological fit for the state. It's close in the polls, but I think Sestak, with his Philadelphia roots, will prevail.
Illinois-This is a hard state for R's to win statewide. Mark Kirk, a moderate republican, was a good choice to run. But he has recently come under fire for lying about his Viet Nam record. This more or less cancels out his democratic opponent's scandal-family bank went under. The dems obviously have serious scandal on their hands with Rod Blago's trial in the news...but I think the dems hold this seat.
Wisconsin-The republicans failed to get Tommy Thompson to run against Feingold. Feingold is a rather liberal member of the senate, considering he comes from a fairly moderate state. He's beatable. But the R's didn't get a great recruit. Nevertheless, polling shows this one being winnable for the republicans. Still, I would chalk this one up for team Blue.

Democractic possible pickups-
Ohio-This is a classic swing-state. Obama won it by 4 last election. If I remember correctly, Bush won it by 2 in 2004. Polling shows this open Republican seat leaning ever so slightly democratic. I think this is the dems best chance of a pickup. But I don't think it will happen.
Kentucky-Economic Libertarians are not a huge part of the Republican party in the evangelical conservative south. But that is what Rand Paul is. He can defeat his democractic opponent, and will start with a lead-but it won't be easy.

Democratic pickups that likely won't happen-
New Hampshire-This state has trended very blue of late. However, Kelly Ayotte seems to have Paul Hodes' number. She has dominated the polls-insofar as a swing state can be dominated.
Missouri-Very close race in the polls. However, of the states Obama looked to flip from the Bush 2004 category, the only one in which he was unsuccessful was MO. I think that's worth noting in a close race.
Florida-Who knows what Charlie Crist's move will do? I tend to think, that unless he manages to bring down Obama's endoresement, he will not beat Marco Rubio. Would the president back an R turned I? Not impossible, but recent moves by Crist seems to indicate that might be the goal for which he is angling. Polling for now remains very close. Can Kendrick Meek take advantage of Crist and Rubio splitting R's and conservative Indies? I just don't think so.
North Carolina-Richard Burr is an underperforming freshman senator. Can't get his approval out of the 40's. A couple of years ago, I would not have thought that a big deal. That was before Obama eeked out a win in NC. I don't really think this will be a pickup-but it's worth keeping an eye on.

So there you go...in January we will have a Senate divided 53-47 in favor of team Blue.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul and Civil Rights

Rand Paul is now the GOP nominee to be the next senator from the state of Kentucky. But since winning his primary on Tuesday night, he has come under heavy criticism for refusing to say whether he would support Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. For those who don't know, that is the title which required the desegregation of private establisments. Basically, it meant white business owners no longer had the right to refuse service to a black person.

Now Rand Paul, on NPR, Rachel Maddow, and in his hometown paper, has vigorously denied any charges of racism. However, every article I've read on this subject has noted that right before saying "but c'mon, how can you not be a racist, or at least harbor sympathy for racists, if you are going to oppose that part of the CVA."

There are some critical distinctions that need to be made here, which most journalists will not make, due to malice or ignorance. First, Paul's position is that what you do with what's private is nobody else's business. As a Christian with Libertarian leanings, this is where the rubber meets the road for me and I sacrifice some political principle because of my faith (not that I am at all complaining). But there are certain things which are done in private which should not be. Is discrimination based on race one of them? Absolutely. But if we are going to regulate people's private business, how can Rachel Maddow, a proud lesbian, beg for laws about gay marriage to be repealed? She certainly cannot do it based on the argument that what people do in private is their own business. The first point is that there are many hypocrites out there who are going to butcher Rand Paul, but are going to turn around on another issue and say, yes, Dr. Paul is correct. The federal government has no right to be interfering in private affairs.

Secondly, is the argument for the role of government. Paul is not a racist, we have to take him at his word. But Paul does not believe that institutional racism should be fought by the government. Truly, all the government can do is cover-up racism. That much is true. Only changed hearts can truly end bigotry. That will not stop people from saying, "well, you might not be a racist, but why won't you do anything to stop it." To which I would say, "you might not sympathize with Saddam Hussein's genocidal activity, but what did you do to stop him." In other words, people who opposed the deposing of Hussein in Iraq (myself included) saw a more limited role for govt. and military in this case. It did not mean in any way that I or anyone else thought he was a swell guy. We just saw a different role for the government.

This issue could hurt Rand Paul considerably in his general election run. But having a different understanding of the role of government, even on a salient issue, does not mean you are a racist or wrong. In fact, Paul's philosophy is very close to main-stream America. It's just that main-stream America is very inconsistent when it comes to this highly charged issue. We'll see how things pan out. I hope he does not lose for holding a consistent philosophy-heaven knows we need principled people in Washington.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Iron Man 2

I went to see the aforementioned movie this evening, and am left with an ambivalent impression. The acting was generally well done and the script was full of witty sarcasm. The special effects were rather stunning and the roles were well cast. Perhaps, my ambivalence is rooted in the fact that I did not see the first one and have never read the comic. In fact, my knowledge of these characters is limited by my own lack of interest. I would never have seen this film had I not tagged along for the purpose of hanging out with my siblings.

However, there is one line that stood out above all the others. Mickey Rourke, in a moment that betrayed the ignorance or insolence of the screenwriters (I actually believe the former in this particular case), uttered the words "If you can make God bleed, people will stop believing in him."

There is little doubt that the line was only intended to mean that people like to believe in what is all-powerful. It makes them feel safe. But if there is a chink in the armor, faith falters.

But unwittingly, the writers actually managed to get Christianity exactly backwards. It isn't only that God the Son bled. But it is precisely because he bled that people do believe in him. Rather, it is precisely becuase he bled that people CAN believe in him. The grace of God is in the blood of Christ, and without that grace first preceeding, we cannot repent of our sins and we will not acknowledge God as Creator and Redeemer. Perhaps, the greatest legacy of this film is that it is a testament to just how convoluted man's portrayal of God can be. After all, this is the problem all us of struggle with to one degree or another: casting God in the likeness of men. As Christians we must remember and remind others, that it is because Jesus Christ showed weakness and humility-being tormented, tortured, and executed-we can have saving faith.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oedipus and Seeking the Truth

In one of the classes I teach we are currently reading the trilogy of plays by Sophocles which feature the tragic character Oedipus. His story is fairly well-known. His parents abandoned him in infancy, hoping to avoid the prophecy which had predicted the boy would kill his father, King Laius, and marry his mother. Through a series of fated events, the prophecy comes true, but unbeknownst to all. It is not until the city of Thebes, which was ruled by Oedipus and his wife/mother Jocasta, comes under a serious curse does anyone begin to suspect anything. The prophet Tireseias tells Oedipus what he had done-but Oedipus thinks he is crazy. However, through a series of conversations, the Theban king becomes steadily convinced that he indeed may have killed his father, and in turn married his mother. While it is becoming clearer to Oedipus what he had done, it is also becoming equally clear to Jocasta. Their actiions in response to these revelations, revelations which may well show the king to be guilty of patricide and incest, are worth considering.

"O be persuaded by me, I entreat you; do not do this." Jocasta
"I will not be persuaded to let be the chance of finding out the whole thing clearly." Oedipus

In the moment of truth, the queen suggests a cover-up and the king, transparency.
When everything comes fully into light, Oedipus gouges out his eyes and exiles himself. A cruel punishment, yes. But Oedipus teaches us that the truth is always worth seeking. Yes, it can be painful. Think of the Roman Catholic Church. It would have been painful to bring to light the stories of abuse...but it would have been better if there had not originally been a cover-up. But while you're at it, think of yourself. Are you willing to seek the truth, despite the pain it will cause you? The Truth himself desires for us to seek him. But Jesus never says it won't hurt a little when we find him. There are things we will have to give up when we discover God and come into communion with him. But it is better to be in the Truth feeling pain, than experiencing comfort in lies.

Oedipus went into exile a blind man, but one who could see better than he had ever had because of the light of truth. As Christians, we ought to bring what is dark and sinful within ourselves to the Lord. It will hurt some...being burned with fire always does. But the fire of the Lord doesn't have to destroy...it can refine. Oedipus stands as an example that, despite the consequences, we are genuinely happier when Truth reigns in our hearts.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trivialized Sexuality

"How do they do it? The ones who make love without love?"-Sharon Olds

Who knows what it is that makes something stick with you. Yet we all have this capability to remember things that to anyone else might be just as easily forgettable. In my sophmore year of college I read a poem for literature appreciation that began with the line cited above.

I hadn't thought about it in years...until tonight. I was watching one of my favorite tv shows and became disgusted with two of the main characters. After sleeping together, the one said "I love you" and the woman refused to respond in kind. It was slightly clever; usually it is the uncommitted male who is put in this role with the inability to say "I love you." But how, if I may be blunt, can you have sex without love? How is it that sex has gone from the prized gift of God, to the 97 billion dollar/year porn industry?

I would like to suggest a couple of the big stepping stones:

1.) Overall rejection of Christ, the Bridegroom. It is not possible to understand the full importance of sexuality outside an understanding that Jesus Christ is married to his Church. The figure of marriage is used in Matthew's Gospel, St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians, and the beautiful prophecy of Hosea, to describe how Jesus would redeem humanity. It would be through a marriage, quite literally made in heaven.

2.) Acceptance of contraception. Is there any bigger reason for the trvialization of sexuality? Not sure. What I am sure of is that contraception creates the possibility for sex without responsibility. That will only encourage sexuality divorced from its ultimate purpose-the creation of life.

2b.) If sex is all about what pleasure I can get, even to people in the Church, how can we ever say with any authority that homosexuality or beastiality is wrong? Is it not forbidden because it is sex separated from the purpose God intended? When Christians, en masse, began seeing contraception as acceptable, it lost its opportunity to witness effectively against the trivialized position of sex in our culture.

3.) Desensitization. You can blame your media of choice. The tv, the computer, billboards, whatever your pleasure. The point it, we don't have to look. But the blood of Lot's wife runs through our own veins. It is in our nature to look at the filth that surrounds us. And all too often, we reach the point where looking doesn't seem so bad anymore. This may be where the rubber meets the road for so many of us: can we turn it off of our tv? Catholic Christians, if they are living faithfully, do not fall under the condemnation of the first two "stepping stones", but I think we all suffer from some degree of desensitization.

We need to look away now. We need to ask God for a restoration of innocence. I'm sure there are other problems that have led to untold millions "making love without love." Anybody else have thoughts that might help us recover sex's true meaning?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Principle Work of the Christian

"Then said they unto him, what shall we do that we might work the works of God?"(Jn. 6:28)

It is a fair question and one to which every Christian ought to know the answer. I have a feeling that if you asked this question to any 10 Christians (depending on the denomination) you would get a breakdown something like this:

Social Justice-3
"Wait...Christians have to work?"-1

And it is true that it is of utmost importance that we tell our neighbors that Jesus has made a way for them to be free of their sins. It is true that we ought to fight against things like abortion and that we should feed the poor and care for widows/orphans. Furthermore, worship is the center of the Christian life. We are made to worship God, which is why the scenes we have of heaven from the Scriptures portray endless worship of the thrice-Holy.

But when the Apostles asked the question about what they must do in order to do the work of God, Jesus answered them and said "This is the work of God, that you believe on him he hath sent."(V. 29) When I read this the other night, I have to admit I was a bit surprised at the answer Christ made. But it makes sense. Of the three legitmate answers to the question given above, none are possible if you do not first believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who was sent into the world by his Father to be its Redeemer. Or said a more famous way,"Without faith it is impossible to please God." (Heb. 11:6)

As Christians approaching Holy Week, keep two things in mind. First, the very simple of prayer of St. Faustina. "Jesus I trust in you." And secondly, the timeless prayer of the unnamed father in Mark 9 "Lord, I believe, help my unbelief." But more than keep them in mind, pray these two powerful prayers. In this way our hearts and minds will be transformed by God's love and we will indeed do the the work of our Lord.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


I've written on this blog and other places before about suffering. Generally, I've taken a spiritual and academic approach to it. The posts are filled with quotes from Jesus, Simone Weil, and many other mystics. And there is always talk about finding ways to unite our pain to that of the suffering Lord Jesus, in order that the suffering which we endure becomes, in some way, redemptive.

But tonight's different. Tonight I am tired, battered, unsure of so many things, feeling sort of friendless, and feeling rather like a failure. The suffering is real and it hurts. I know all the Christian answers to the problem of evil-and I genuinely believe them. But for the moment, hope is absent. Dreams and wishes are crushed by the weight of reality. My desire to do anything but sit on my bed is small. I can't remember a time where I literally felt I was dragging myself to work, forcing myself to eat, for three straight days.

I usually shy away from writing things that include excessive use of the words "seem" or "feel", but as I said, tonight's different. Nothing much else is coming to mind.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Fulfilling Baptismal Vows

Covered in Baptismal waters, children begin their life long journey toward God. It is in these waters that regeneration takes place and the initial steps of justification happen. It is not magic, mind you, there must be faith present. But there is no getting around Peter's words that a man, in order to be saved, must repent and be baptized. But Baptism is not, as some have vainly imagined, after-life insurance. For it must be accompanied by a life of repentance for our sins.

I was reading the Epistle of Jude this morning and was thinking about verse 5. "...having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed them that did not believe." If you have any doubts about the necessity of Baptism and Repentance for salvation, you need look no further than this verse. St. Paul refers to the Exodus as a great Baptism. (I Cor. 10:2) Without this Baptism there would not have been freedom for the Israelites. Without our Baptisms or another means of regeneration, there is not any ability for us to repent of our sins.

Yet, Baptism does not guarantee that we will persevere in fulfiling our Baptismal vows. Essentially, what Jude teaches and calls to remembrance, is that many of the people of God in the days of Moses, forgot to uphold what was signified in their own Baptism. They were given the freedom to worship and obey God without hindrance. But as Jude records, they chose not to believe. Herein is a profound warning for the Christian: you are baptized. That's one component of salvation. But Baptism is a one time act. The life of repentance is just that, a life. In the sacrament we are called to reject the world, the flesh, and the devil. Baptism has no lasting impact on those who will not turn away from their sins. Let us walk carefully in these days, being sure to use the freedom we have been given to serve God. The Israelites who fell in the desert, never seeing the land of promise, are our warning sign today.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Best Biblical Argument for the Immaculate Conception of the BVM

Considered by many Protestants to be the hardest of the Marian dogmas to accept, the Immaculate Conception is not something clearly spelled out in Scripture. Of course, just because something is not explicity stated in the Bible does not mean it is not to be believed. However, the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that she was in the first moment of her conception preserved free from the stain of original sin, is actually centered in the first recording of the Gospel, the proto-evangellium.

In Genesis 3:15, the motif known as the "Seed of the Woman" is born. "I will put enmity between thee and the woman, between thy seed and her seed. He will bruise thy head, and you will bruise his heel." In God's conversation with the serpent we rightly emphasize the latter half of this prophecy; God's promise that at the Crucifixion of the Child of the Woman the head of Satan would be definitively crushed. Yet it cannot be overlooked that the Lord also states that enmity will exist between the serpent and the Woman. This is not in any way a clear statement that Mary was immaculately conceived, but if Mary was at emnity that means she was a foe, an opposite. What is the opposite of utter sinfulness? You guessed it.

In the end, I still think the best argument for this dogma is that Christianity has always taught that Christ takes his entire human nature from his mother. If he is perfect, and he is, how can his mother not be perfect? How would Christ not be infected with her sin?

Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Everlasting Man

"The old trinity was of father, mother and son, and is called the human family. The new is of child, mother, and father and has the name of the Holy Family. It is in no way altered except in being entirely reversed; just as the world which is transformed was not in the least different, except in being turned upside-down." -G.K. Chesterton

These words from the Everlasting Man are a testament to the reality that Jesus had (still has) a tendency to turn things upside down when we least expect it. For thousands of years the original paradigm for the family stood, until a virgin birth shattered it to pieces...once anyway. For generations, Israel expected a King to throw off their oppressors, only to be shown a Man who would submit to evil in order to ultimately overcome it. These same people envisioned their Messiah sitting on the throne of David arrayed in purple robes and a golden crown. What they actually saw was him standing, fastened to a cross, stripped of his clothing, wearing a crown of thorns and thistles. Everything is backwards, reversed, upside down.

It was using this information and the sheer power of it, that the disciples of Christ are recorded to "have turned the world upside down." (Acts 17:6) Both the Jewish and the Gentile world, albeit for different reasons, never expected this and those who did not receive Christ did not like it. How could one Man's life and death...or rather, his death and life...change so much?

I wonder if we share this in common with the Jews and Gentiles of the Apostolic period. When we look around and see the darkness that shrouds our world, the shadows of sin blocking out all light, do we, even if our attitude would be one that accepts change, expect it? Can the world be turned upside-down again? Or, perhaps a more burning question, do we really want change? Do we want our world turned upside down for Christ? Or do we like dabbling in it too much ourselves? If that is true, than we need to ask the God who specializes in turning things upside down to change our hearts. Lent is a fantastic time for this.

But as he is purging us from unholy desires and conforming us to Himself, we should be about the business of reversing the curse, of flipping the status quo on its head. There are going to be those who do not like it. But then, there were those who did not like Jesus either. We should expect not to be liked. The same Jesus who turned the world upside-down can and, at least in an eschatological sense, will. But he chooses to use his disciples as the instruments of inversion. If we are really following Christ, we need to follow the pattern his life sets.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Debra Medina and the 9/11 Truther Movement

This will not be a long post. But this story upset me last night, and it is upsetting me again today. For those of you who may not know, Debra Medina is the Libertarianesque Republican running against Rick Perry and Kay Bailey Hutchinson in the Republican primary for Governor of Texas. Yesterday, Medina was asked by Glenn Beck whether or not she thought there was anything to the notion that the United States Government, particularly the Bush administration, had any knowledge of, or were in any way complicit in the attacks. Ms. Medina's answer was as follows: "I think some very good questions have been made in that regard...some good questions have been raised that haven't been answered."

For this reason, Glenn Beck, Rick Perry, Kay Bailey Hutchinson, their advisers, and every journalist I've read commenting on the story, have ridiculed Debra Medina. This is not shocking in any way. I have a couple of friends who are "truthers" and any time I've seen them try to describe their views and show evidence of these views, they are laughed to scorn and labeled as "conspiracy theorists." It strikes me as so odd that so many people are unwilling to seek the truth.

For my own part, I am not a Truther. I think it is an illogical leap to blame the Bush administration because some questions are unanswered. I'm dumbfounded though, because that is exactly the opinion that Debra Medina espoused. She never once said she believed the U.S. governemnt was complicit. She explicity claimed in the interview that neither she, nor her advisers, were radicals. Medina simply said, "there are unanswered questions." Anyone who has done a cursory reading of the 9/11 commission report should know there are unanswered questions. For instance, why is it that WTC building 7 which collapsed on the same day,is not included? These and questions like it do not implicate anyone in the U.S. governemnt directly, but it absolutely is grounds for asking questions about the official story.

Debra Medina will likely lose her primary-and frankly, she may not have been the right person for the job period. But if this is what costs her the election, it is an embarassment to our society. If we cannot ask questions or are ridiculed for asking them, can we even say that we believe in free speech? I'm willing to admit that I have spent a lot of time in Libertarian circles and am more sympathetic to the "Truther" movement than most non-truthers. But considering the Republican establishment has been asking questions about whether President Obama was born in the United States, I have a hard time understanding how they could say someone is asking stupid questions...particularly when the unanswered questions in the case of 9/11 are much more important.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Day, Chaucer, and True Love

If my sister ever read my blog she would say that the only reason I would ever say what I am about to write, is because I do not have a girlfriend...and that I need to get one. The statement would be true, but that is not why I decided to post this blog.
Valentine's day, as many of you well know, is the feast day of St. Valentine. As best I can tell, there are at least three ancient saints named Valentine and none know for sure which is to be commemorated on February 14th. All of them were holy martyrs. They dared to preach and live the gospel in a time when it was illegal to do so. They faced persecution for not bowing down to the emporer and having a steadfast faith in the promises of God. This fact should not go unnoticed this coming Sunday.

But how did Valentine's day come to be a popular day for marriages, romance, and profit for Hallmark and Russell Stover? This likely has its origin in the work of Geoffrey Chaucer, the English poet. On the occasion of a royal engagement, Chaucer wrote a poem linking the coming together of turtledoves in mid-February, with Valentine's day and the impending marriage. The following is an excerpt:

"For this was on St. Valentine's Day
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate"

Since medieval times, romantic love came to be associated with the feast of the martyrs bearing the name Valentine. However, one of the liturgical revisions of the Roman Church in the late 60's was purging the calendar of saints whose origins and lives were not a matter of record. Because so little was known of St. Valentine, including which one we actually commemorate, this feast was removed from the liturgical calendar. The only meaning left to Feb. 14th was the meaning infused in it by Chaucer. That being the case, the day's significance is now relegated to cheap poetry, over-priced restaurants, and imported flowers. Or is it?

"There is no greater love than a man would lay down his life for his friends." These words of Jesus are fulfilled by himself in his selfless death and sacrifice on the cross. However, it is an aspect of love in which all people can participate. The martyrs have given their lives, not only on behalf of Jesus, but as a testimony to the world around them. It is a gift of themselves to the Church and their friends. St. Valentine, by becoming a martyr, is indeed a tremendous example of all-consuming love. Regardless of whether it is a sanctioned feast day of the Church or not, Valentine and all the martyrs remind us of what it really means to love.

Whether you find yourself with your spouse, sweetheart, or simply by yourself this Valentine's day, know that real acts of love are possible for everyone, but especially the Christian. Sacrifice is always a component of love, therefore it is appropriate that on the feast of a martyr we as a culture celebrate the beauty of love...as long as we remember it is not simply a feeling but the action of always putting the other before the Self. Thus, it becomes apparent, that while the romantic side of Valentine's day did not exist until the days of Chaucer, the day had already been a celebration of true love.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why did Christ Descend to Hell?

The Creed informs us of this truth; that after the death and suffering of Jesus on the cross he descended into hell (or to the dead). Many evangelical Christians who are aware of the Creeds protest the phrase because the earliest manuscripts of the Creed do not contain it and they do not find it to be a doctrine borne out by Scripture. To be fair, they are correct that it is not in the earliest manuscripts and the Scriptures are a bit unclear on the matter. We need to answer several questions:

1.) Why is there confusion on this issue?

2.) Where is the hell to which Christ descended?

3.) What Scripture references might help us to understand this reality?

4.) And ultimately, why go there?

The first question may be answered by understanding that the Christian concept of Hell cannot be read into the hebrew word "Sheol" which means the grave or the Greek word "Hades", the equivalent of the Hebrew "sheol". Thus, many of the most commonly referenced passages of Scripture by those who support the doctrine, but may not be as well versed in biblical languages, are found to be lacking any substance. For instance, Psalm 16:10 as well as Peter's two quotations of it "Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hell", is simply referring to the realm of the dead. We should not think of Christ descending into a place of torment, at least not for the purpose of being tormented. Otherwise, his words on the cross "it is finished" have little meaning. This means that a slew of "proof texts" immediately have to be tossed out. This causes confusion as to the source of the doctrine.

To answer the second, third, and fourth questions, however, we do need to realize that where Christ went he did encounter those suffering for their unbelief in this world.

"For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that he might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh but made alive in the Spirit. In which also he went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark in which a few, that is eight were saved by water." (I Peter 3:18-20)

While we do not know the physical place, or whether Hell is even a physical place, we do know that Jesus went to the place called, Gehenna, the place of torment which he mentions in Matthew 25. St. Peter teaches us that he went to proclaim the gospel to the souls which had been disobedient since days of old. But why? Is there any hope for these lost souls? No, of course not. Aside from the multiple verses that could be cited, C.S. Lewis's remark that Hell is a door locked from the inside is very helpful. The dead in Gehenna have no desire for God, for they exist in a state where there sin and rejection of him has been actualized for eternity. As hard as it is to imagine, their final rejection of God and his love causes them to desire Hell over Heaven.

If it was not for evangelization, and I think we can say for sure that Christ was not gloating in some way, what is the purpose of the descent into Hell? I think the best explanation I can give is found in verse 18 of the passage cited above. "But made alive in the Spirit." That is, his Spirit was released from the bonds of his physical body. This was true for three days until his Spirit and Body were reunited, never again to be separated. What does this teach us? I believe the moral of this clause of the Creed to be that Christ has not only been through life and death, to lead us through, he has also conquered the area between death and the Great Resurrection. That means there is literally nowhere, no time, no space between time, where we can go that Jesus has not already been. Which means there is not only nothing to fear in death, but as we wait in the presence of God for the restoration of all things and the Great Resurrection, we can be assured that we will be in place that Jesus has already visited.

This is comforting to me. Christ's descent into Hell is real and it was not for punishment, but to lead us through the last of the valleys of death.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Habakkuk, the nature of sin, and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

"You who are of purer eyes than to behold evil and cannot look on wrong; why do you idly look at traitors? and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?"
(Hab. 1:13)

In his prophecy, Habakkuk sees the coming destruction of his nation by the Chaldeans, that is the Babylonian empire. He writes a litany of complaints against the Israelites. Violence, a justice system that is crippled by perverted laws and poor judgments, are several of the complaints listed. For these reasons, the wrath of God will be excercised by raising up the Chaldeans to conquer and pillage the Holy Land. But verse 13 of the opening chapter is a question by Habakkuk for God. The prophet understands that his people have done evil and deserve punishment. But he does not understand how God can use a people, who are by all accounts more evil than the Israelites, to accomplish his purpose. How can God be silent when those who are less righteous attack those who are more righteous?

This question and the knowledge that Jerusalem did indeed fall to Babylon, is quite telling. What are the primary lessons we learn?

1.) God can use anything or anyone to accomplish his purposes. This is not always a negative thing (remember Baalam's Ass? cf: Numbers 22:28-31), but in this case it is. God can use the unjust to correct and chastise his people.

2.) God is of purer eyes than to behold evil. This means that while there are degrees of justice within individuals (i.e. Mother Teresa vs. the unabomber), not even the Good and Righteous are as holy as the LORD. The sin and wrongdoings of the just are also worthy of punishment. These sins are of course forgivable because of God's grace, but that does not exclude divine justice. We believe that Jesus paid the price for our sins, but there are still consequences for what we do wrong. It is not enough to say "I am better than that one." Indeed, was this not the sin of the Pharisee who boasted that he was better than the tax collector? All of us, as Paul reminds, have fallen short of God's glory. This means we all need a Savior and none of us can question God's justice.

3.) Lastly, we must see this as a call to holiness. C.S. Lewis once described the soul's desire for purging in the terms of this verse. In his work "Letters to Malcolm" he writes the following:

"The right view returns magnificently in Newman's DREAM. There if I remember it rightly, the saved soul, at the very foot of the throne, begs to be taken away and cleansed. It cannot bear for a moment longer with its darkness to affront that light."

Lewis here is specifically stating his belief in Purgatory, but it is applicable even to our present situation. We stand somewhere in time between the foot of the cross and the foot of God's throne. Our souls ought to be begging God to be thoroughly cleansed from every vestige of sin. God cannot look on anything that is impure. Our faith in Jesus makes us, as St. Paul also teaches, "the righteousness of God in Him [Christ]." But it ought also to lead us to purity from the inside out. Our desire should be for holiness, through obedience to God.

Today being the 2nd of February, it is the feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is on this day that we remember the Virgin and Joseph presenting Jesus at the Temple. It was at this time that Mary participated in the ritual of purification from legal uncleanliness. She brought two turtle doves as a sacrifice and in thanksgiving for the blessings God had given her in fulfillment of the Mosaic law. Throughout the life of our Savior, Mary stands to the Church as an example of obedience and purity.

May we today walk in holiness that we may be found acceptable in the eyes of him who cannot behold our misdeeds.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

State of the Union Address

Hello readers,

How did you all feel about last night's State of the Union Address. Four thoughts immediately came to my mind listening to the president last night.

1.) I cannot understand what the point of forgiving college debt after a certain time is. Where is the incentive for me to pay off my own? Yeah, it might hurt my credit score, but I will never have to pay off any more! Right now, I still owe about $11, 000 to Sallie Mae. I wouldn't mind saving that money. But if I do not pay for it, who will?

The only possible benefit I could see to such a program is that those whose debt is forgiven might spend their saved money, helping the economy to grow. Somehow I doubt that this will work out.

2.) Why on earth did President Obama call out the Supreme Court? It was a cheap political shot and frankly I don't blame Obama for looking away from the justices in attendance when he spoke. He should have been ashamed. The court's recent ruling, relaxing limitations on what corportations and unions can spend on election advertising, was an excellent one. No, I'm not a big fan of money in politics. It obviously has a corrupting influence. But as Obama said, the reason he opposed the ruling is because "elections should be decided by the American People" not corporations. Well, Mr. President, I certainly could not agree with you more. I fail to see how this ruling changes that, however. The only way this can be a game changer is if the American people are too stupid to realize when they are being sold propaganda in commercials and other advertisements. Besides, I have a hard time listening to someone lecture me on money in a political race, when he outspent his main opponent in the 2008 election by a margin of nearly 2.5/1. A whopping 730 million to ensure his election to the presidency. Yup, let the people decide.

3.) I strongly support a spending freeze like the one the president proposed. But what the president proposed last night was a spending freeze that does not include the military industrial complex, Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. Yet, in the same speech he spoke of the deficit that was created by two wars and an expensive prescription drug benefit from the Bush administration. He is right of course about the major source of our national debt but he is not really addressing the problem. We have to cut defense spending in our country. The pentagon must be reigned in. Secondly, medicare and Social Security are eating up our entire federal tax revenue. They are simply too expensive. Either the SS tax has to be increased, or the age for receiving benefits must be pushed back.

4.) I wanted to commend the president on the call to Congress to begin governing. I suppose you could blame the sound byte, sour grapes, partisanship, whatever you choose...but the current crop of Republican Senators and Representatives have largely been an embarassment. They have acted like stingy school children. Now, largely I agree with them on what they have said "no" to. But it might seem a bit more genuine if they had ever stood up to President Bush when he was spending us into oblivion. I generally hope, along with the president, that Washington can again begin, not necessaily to set aside differences, but to actually debate the merits of policy. That is what a deliberative body like the Senate is supposed to do.

Your thoughts?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Cardinal Newman and King David

"Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions." (Ps. 25:7)

Many, if not all of us, have skeletons in our closets; ghosts in our past. It would be just as well if none of them ever saw the light of day. But all of these sins are rooted in the one great sin of youth, a character flaw of eternal consequence, pride. Learning humility is perhaps one of the greatest tasks of the Christian life. It is the example Christ set for us "who humbled himself to death, even the death of the cross." (Phil. 2)
This trait is seen, however, in some of the great saints of the Church. Showing us it is more than possible to emulate Christ in this regard. But it took many of them years of following Jesus and asking for his grace to even begin mastering their pride. One such saint is Cardinal John Henry Newman. Below are two verses of one of his great hymns "Lead, Kindly Light":

Lead, kindly light amid th'encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on.
The night is dark and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet, I do not ask to see,
The distant scene, one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou,
should lead me on.
I loved to choose and see my path but now,
the night is gone.
I loved the garish day, and spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will, remember not past years.

These two verses speak of two very different lifestyles. The second verse reminisces about the days when Newman did not seek God's guidance but preferred his own path to the Lord's. He even notes that this was despite the fact that he knew it was wrong (spite of fears). Pride kept him from asking for God to lead him in the way he should go.

But verse one is a reflection of the life he lives now; a life over which he does not attempt too much control; a life whose destiny is simply entrusted to his Father. He does not ask to see the distant future, just to be led step by step.

In all, what is written here is something with which all Christians struggle. It is impossible, and undesirable to try and control everything about ourselves. Too many things are uncertain. Yet ceding control over our lives to Another, is most difficult and scary. This is not a fear that can be overcome by anything natural. Rather it is only the life of faith which frees and liberates us. It is the life of faith which allows us to say "keep my feet...direct my path...it is too dark for me to see on my own...lead Thou me on." If you have not let go of the pride with which you were born, the pride that has led to the sins of your youth, pray that God will grant you the faith to simply say "I trust in you." Pride is the fruit of original sin...and itself the chief of all sins. Pride says "my way is best and I'll choose my path on my own." The humility to completely entrust our ways, our lives, our whole selves to God..."the distant scene", is the fruit of faith.

"A man's heart devises his way, but the Lord directs his steps." (Prov. 16:9)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Undoing of the Curse: Jezebel and Eutychus

The Recapitulation theory of the Atonement states that Christ's death undoes all of what we got wrong. This view sees many New Testament figures and events as being the anti-type of their Old Testament counterparts. Hence, Christ gives the law again on a mountain; the New Moses. The miracle of all hearing the gospel in their own language at Pentecost is the undoing of the curse placed on the people of the world at the Tower of Babel in Genesis. Many, many other examples could be cited.

A thought came to my mind Tuesday night though of what might potentially be another example. Many know the story of the evil queen Jezebel. The wife of King Ahab, Jezebel was a hateful, adulterous woman. She murdered Naboth, was an idolater, and was responsible for the slaying of many of the Lord's prophets. ( I Kings 18:3 ) As a punishment for her sins, several eunuchs toss Jezebel out of a window later in II Kings, and she is trampled underfoot by a horse and was nearly completely devoured by dogs. Death by window.

Wouldn't you know it, there is a case in the New Testament of a man falling out of a window and dying. At this point I should inform you, my readers, that I originally had intended this to be a somewhat funny post...one that played off my friend Father Peter's idea that a "little bit of levity, leaveneth the entire lump." But as I thought about it there may be something much more significant at play. In Acts 20:9 it is recorded that a man named Eutychus fell out of a window three stories high while listening to Saint Paul preach. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

In other words, we have in the story of Jezebel a woman who would not listen to the prophets of the Lord who were calling her to repentance. In fact, she aggressively sought to snuff them out. While Eutychus was not as malicious, he too did not find the Word of the Lord or the prophet of the Lord stimulating enough to listen.

But here is the twist. Whereas Jezebel was left for animal food, Eutychus was raised from the dead by Paul in the ensuing verses. It is important not to violate a text of Scripture by seeing things that are not there. But it really is a wonderful picture of the powerful grace of Christ, poured out in the New Testament, to restore one who failed to hear his prophet. Perhaps, than, the story of Eutychus stands to us as one of the great "undoings" of the curse in the Old Testament.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

As With Gladness Men Of Old

It's a few days after the Epiphany, but still well within the octave. I thought then I might post a small meditation on one of my favorite Epiphany hymns. It's not that this hymn is musically anything special and as a whole the text is not as good as a few other hymns for this season. But the last verse is special. Read these words:

In that heavenly country bright,
Need they no created light.
Thou its Light, its Joy, its Crown
Thou its Sun which goes not down.

Jesus is the Light of this world, but he is also the light of heaven. He will one day perfectly shine on us the glory of the everlasting Father. As Malachi prophesied ages before, he is the "Sun of Righteousness." His purity and perfection radiate throughout the celestial city, granting unfading light. Ephiphany has to do with the manifestations of Christ. He appears to the Gentile wise men. He manifests portions of his identity at his Baptism and then at the first miracle which we performed at the wedding in Cana. But his final manifestation to his people will show that he dwells in, and is, Light. While on earth we did behold his glory, but the entirety of this was hidden, save the moment of Transfiguration, which only three saw. In heaven, we will behold the full glory of our Redeemer-not darkly, as through a glass, but face to face. We will, as St. John confesses, see him "as he is."

"There shall be no night there; and they need no candle, nor light of the sun; for the Lord God giveth them light." (Rev. 22:5)