Relationship and Rules: a view of Church

It was my son’s confirmation yesterday. A very proud moment in his sacramental life, and a time that I hope to write about soon, sacramentally speaking. But as soon as I returned home yesterday (after searching and thinking I had lost my son at the church when someone had already taken him home) the church’s view of women as a whole was challenged; that it was dominated my men who didn’t allow women to lead the church. This is a common accusation. But the timing was terrible and I tried to answer anyway, unsuccessfully.

I failed to address it with any coherence. After a feeble “that’s no the case” I was essentially dumbfounded after stammering some lame excuse. Quite insufficient on so many levels. I realize now what I should have said to someone quite distant from the church and someone with a genuine concern (in italics below).

The view that we get of the church on earth is not the complete picture of the church. We need to understand that in the church in heaven “the church triumphant” (triumphant because they ‘made it’) every person is equal except Jesus and Mary. (Angels I think aren’t persons they are beings but I may be wrong on that.) The saints, both male and female, stand out as giants because of their example in attaining eternal life. So what I should have said to the challenger is that their view of the church is limited to this world. But the purpose of the church is everlasting life.

The role women play in salvation is underestimated, perhaps even unrecognized. And it goes to how we are made and what we are made for. Typically women socially network better while men suffice with superficial talk. Typically men like to tinker with tools, or sport, or machinery, or some other physical / intellectual activity which grounds much of their conversation. And this is OK.

In their tinkering men come to an understanding of things. In their talk women come to understanding of people. Both of these are required for everlasting life. Let me give an example.

In understanding things men realize how things are. This can be from the natural world (environment, physics, etc.) or supernatural world (theology, philosophy, etc.) or both (sacraments, psychology etc.). These understandings become rules for a discipline, often starting out as a theory. Now, I must make it clear, this is not limited to men: women have been pioneers in many of these field. But this is the level on which men work, a level that contributes to a path to heaven. So what I should have said to the accuser was Yes. The church on earth is dominated by men. They work on the level of rules, and therefore authority. (Author; a writer of rules).

Women typically, working on a more personal level, encounter and witness Jesus at a deeper level than men. Their living testimony directs others to faith personally more than any words will. In scripture Jesus never rebuked a women because of her faith, quite the opposite: “your faith has saved you”. The apostles failed to understand yet the women had faith. Even today in the church most congregations are dominated by women. Many men attending are often disengaged. But again, this is not always the case and examples to the contrary abound, but it is typical. So what I should have said was But the women’s role is unrecognized by those inside and outside of the church. They work on relationship and witness a personal encounter with God.

 

 

Was Peter THAT important?

Peter, some dispute, was just another disciple, no different to any one else. Others some might say that he was the first among equals, he was after all the first to speak up when Jesus asked a question. What made him so special? Lets have a look at some significant scripture verses that support the catholic position of Peter being the leader Jesus intended him to be. 

Key Moments in History 

Luke 5:8 is significant because Simon is called Peter for the first time in Luke’s gospel. Luke structures this passage like those in the Old Testament. First a person is named twice. Look at Genesis 22:11 where God calls out “Abraham, Abraham” just as he’s about to sacrifice Isaac, or Exodus 3:4 where we see “Moses, Moses” in front of the burning bush. Another New Testament reference is found in Acts 9:4. This is the infamous road to Damascus where Saul is converted to Christianity through the words of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Another thing that happens in this passage (returning to Luke 5:8) is that Simon’s name is changed to Peter, drawing on Matt 16:18. Again from the Old Testament we see a name change with Jacob to Israel in Genesis 35:10, and with Abram to Abraham in Genesis 17:5 (and Sarai to Sarah), none of which appeared in scripture before God uttered their names. 

Note that these events mark significant change in the history of Israel – the promise of a nation (Abraham); the beginning of the fulfillment of a covenant (Sarah bears Isaac); the test of fidelity (Isaac’s sacrifice); the start of the promised nation (Israel); the freeing of a nation (Moses). Could the same significance be given to Simon Peter? 

Another scriptural connection is the recognition of the divine name by way of falling on the ground. We see this, for instance, in the same passage as Abraham’s renaming when he falls to the ground in Genesis 17:3 after recognizing the divine presence of God. 

Promises to Peter Alone

There are promises that Jesus made to Peter alone: four in the marquee (and already referenced) Matt 16:18-19 – 1) “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my church”; 2) “the gates of hell will not prevail against it”; and 3) “I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven”; 4) “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”. This last one was also extended to all discples later. Much has been written on all these but allow me to draw some things to your attention. 

First, Jesus’s church was not built on anyone else but on Simon Peter. Incidentally, this is the only time we see the two named Simon Peter in the gospel of Matthew. (Another key moment in history?) 

Secondly, the gates of hell words were spoken to him alone. The church founded on him contains gates that no evil will overcome. It reminds me of the prophecy of Jeremiah (15:20). Jeremiah in his distress calls out to God. God promised that Jeremiah will be as a fortified gate of bronze that will prevail against the evils of the world. I don’t think it is too long a bow to draw a comparison between Jeremiah and Peter, but perhaps it is. 

Next, the third promise, we see the giving of the keys to the kingdom. Drawing from the Davidic kingdom in which Eliakim is given the keys to the kingdom (Isaiah 22:20-22) Peter here is also given a different set of keys to a different kind of kingdom. There is a clear significance of authority given to the one to held the key. That significance is still recognized today in Peter. 

Lastly, from as early as Numbers 3:1-2 Moses relays what God has stated about the significance of binding something, that it is an oath or a vow. Like things, words can also be bound to a person, and by a person. Here Peter is that person. Additionally the gospel was written in Greek, and the Greek language, similarly to English, has tenses though somewhat differently. The tense in this phrase means from now on; it is an open ended statement without limitation. This is essentially like giving Peter a blank cheque. Whatever you bind… 

Sole Authority

As well the promises given to Peter there are commands that were given only to him. These two are “strengthen the brethren” (Luke 22:32) and “feed my sheep” (John 21:17). It seems to me quite perculiar that Peter alone was given these commands. Surely all the brethren should strengthen each other, there is strength in numbers (11:6) after all (just a little joke; look it up!). Likewise, feed my sheep – which clearly doesn’t refer to real sheep and real food – but the spiritual support of the flock of Jesus: those who hear his voice and follow him (John 10:27). But Peter has been singled out for this command. It just doesn’t make sense. Unless, of course, his role was different to those of the other apostles. And as the leader, his role was different. 

The Firsts

Here I’ll just list a few things. Suffice to say that Peter did many firsts in the church. 

🔹Peter initiated the election of the first apostolic successor (Acts 1:15-17)
🔹Peter preached the first sermon after Pentecost (Acts 2:14-36)
🔹Afterwards, Peter received the first Jewish converts (Acts 2:41)
🔹Peter performed the first miracle (Acts 3:6-7) 
🔹Peter inflicted the first punishment (Acts 5:1-11) 
🔹Peter excommunicated the first heretic (Acts 8:21)
🔹Peter was the first apostle to raise someone from the dead (Acts 9:36-41)
🔹Peter received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:9-16)
🔹Peter first recieved Gentiles into the church (Acts 10:44-48)
🔹And finally, Peter made the first decisive act at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15:7-11)  

While there may not be one single scripture reference that states out rightly that Peter is the leader of the church (though many rely on Matt 16:18-19 and its interpretation) these lesser known ones begin to build a strong case, built on Rock. To those who say Peter was not THAT important, I say that Jesus thought he was, and the early church continued to respect his authority; as does the Catholic Church. In light of apostolic succession (Acts 1:15-17) we still have a Peter with us today. 

Triune Love: a reflection on this week’s gospel (John 3:16-18)

If you were to see yourself though the eyes of God, what would you see? Do you see an awful sinner in need condemning, something like a criminal who has done wrong and is in need of a penalty? Or do you see a child of God who, through loving eyes, can do no wrong? Or perhaps something else?

This weekend we get an idea of why God has sent his Son, a glimpse rarely seen so explicitly in scripture: not to condemn, but to redeem. The hinge on which condemnation and redemption pivots is faith. Faith opens us up to this redemption.

Though opened up, faith is just the start, not the be all and end all. A fundamental start, absolutely, but it cannot remain there. We cannot expect to do an “altar call” or profess the faith and “it” be done. Many other scripture verses reflect this. However today’s scripture sets everything else in motion. We read about why God has done what he has done.

If you see yourself as a condemned criminal through the eyes of God it is through faith in his Son Jesus which frees you, which enables you to have eternal life.

Imagine yourself hauled into a courtroom accused of *insert your favourite sin*. You stand and face your charges. As they are read out in front of the courtroom you are guilt ridden to paralyzation, frozen under the sheer weight of unquestionable shame. Defenselessly condemned the heavy sentence is cast down.

Right at that moment someone stands and offers to take the sentence upon himself. But do you know him? This is his one question for you – “Do you know who I am?” Here is our chance to profess and prove our faith in Jesus. But the work is done: the evidence has already been presented. How do you respond?

This is how Jesus redeems us; he takes the punishment of your sin upon himself. But only if you believe in him – if you have faith.

The beauty about this metaphoric scenario is that it smoothly runs well some areas but limps in others. One limp is the timing. The juridical scene (easily seen as at our point of death) is actually now. We are given the final end now to make our choices today. If we have faith now, everlasting life is already available to us now rather than in some future time. Eternal life starts now, but it demands more. Now is our chance to build up the evidence to submit at the point of death. Faith starts now, but demands more.

The alternative is also open – no one is required to have faith; faith remains, and always will be, an open invitation. We can chose to accept that faith or chose not to accept it. God is a perfect gentleman like that – he doesn’t force himself on anyone but invites all.

All of this – the offer of faith, the following redemption, the forgiveness of sin – all of this comes from Gods love for us. A love which is expressed in God sending his son; a love to which we respond in the Spirit of faith. This scripture opens up not only a glimpse of the triune God, but invites us to respond and if we adequately respond our reward is eternal life, as of now. It is a sharing of God himself so that we may have a share of him. He is love, and he wants us to live in that triune love.

May I respond more in love than in apathy or distain. May I live the rest of my life in the love of the triune God.

Hey, there he is!: a reflection on this week’s gospel (Jn 1:29-34)

At coming to the end of the Christmas Season, at least for most of us, we enter ordinary time reflecting on a gospel with an unusual feature: one in which Jesus doesn’t speak a word. And yet his silence allows him to be the center of John the Baptist’s monologue. So why is this gospel, one with which Catholics should be well familiar given it is in the mass, selected as the introduction for the year?

I think it may have more to do with the context of the story. Jesus returns from the desert and John, with his disciples, see Jesus. This begins the gospel. Upon John pointing the way to Jesus (I like to think of it as a “Hey, there he is!” moment) some of his disciples start following him, and rightly so: John is the one who, of Jesus, cries out in the wilderness, is the one unfit to untie his shoes, the one for whom he must decrease.

pointing hand

 

Within this context one begins to see the meaning of the gospel. John points the way to Jesus, a way we too must follow. For the start of the year and the season of ordinary time – which, by the way, does not mean ordinary as in plain but ordinary as in ordered or sequential – it is fitting then that the first gospel directs us to Jesus, the Chosen One of God.

Insofar as the Mass is concerned, it may seem strange that these words of John’s direction are placed where they are. If the words, “the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world,” are inviting us to be aware of the presence of Jesus, shouldn’t they be earlier perhaps at the start of the Mass or at least before the consecration? Valid arguments, since Jesus is present earlier than when these words are said. So why are they placed there?

I believe – and though I have studied the Mass and indeed given presentations on it, it is no more than a belief, or at best a lucky shot – I believe that while the real presence of Jesus becomes manifest at the point of consecration, just as Jesus was present prior to these words of John, it is not until after Jesus is recognized that others begin to follow. Likewise, it is soon after our public recognition of Jesus in repeating these same words of John that we too begin to follow Jesus, quite physically and publicly, in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament.

I am told there are still disciples of John the Baptist in existence today in a remote part of somewhere (sorry the details are sketchy, some years have since past when I heard that). In spirit at least, I think there are more. These followers of John have not taken heed of his word, have not followed his direction. There are some people today (and perhaps more than some) who have not followed John to Jesus. They may live a worthy life and while they may have come close to Jesus, they have not begun to follow him. They continue to follow a false Chosen One.

In living a life faithful to the gospel, do we point the way to Jesus like John did? Are we continuing to follow a “John” like replacement? Can we let go of the comfort of what we know and like the disciples of John reach out to Jesus and follow him in a radical life? Do we point the way to Jesus in the ordered life?

Let the silence of Jesus be at peace within you. Follow the promptings of his Spirit, in whichever form they take for you – for I’m fairly sure they will not be manifested in the same way as it was for John! – and let your faithfulness to these promptings draw you closer to Christ, and in turn direct others to him on whom the Spirit rests.

Are you ready for this? A reflection on LAST Sunday’s gospel (Mt 24:37-44)

Yes, last Sunday.

(I was busy last week finalizing preparations for the Men’s conference last Saturday [I will blog about that soon], so I have with regret neglected last week’s post – hence this one.)

There are a few things going on in this gospel. The clear theme is preparation, and fittingly so given our entry into Advent: the door through which we enter the new liturgical year (and Happy New Year!). Preparation links the readings. In the first reading Isaiah’s call for preparation is for the Temple of the Lord and the authority it yields; changing swords into ploughshares and the bringing of peace, a peace that is found in the gates of Jerusalem (as the psalm says). The second reading calls for a self preparation: an internal examination, if you will, and live decent lives. In calling for such though, there becomes established a dialectic between those prepared and those who are not.

But the Gospel, how does the gospel prepare us? By way of a threefold message Jesus punctuates preparedness first by referring to the days of Noah, and how he had prepared. Again, exposing the dialectic in the everyday, one worker will be taken, the other stays behind. Finally, Jesus parabilizes about the householder and the thief: “So stay awake!” Clearly we need to be prepared, but for what? The gospel says for an hour unexpected; therefore vigilance is the key.

Now if from your ambo you heard anything like what I heard from mine, this was the key to the gospel: getting us prepared for the season in which we enter, and rightly so for it is Christ that we are preparing for both in ourselves and as a community in the context of the church. But there is one issue that I for one would have been pleased to hear, but seemed to have been overlooked.

rapture cartoon

This scripture is a marque reference for Protestants to defend the rapture theory. It says in scripture, one is left and one is taken; but there is something lacking. Who is taken and who is left behind? Scripture doesn’t state that explicitly, so it could be either way. Some Protestants believe that the righteous will be taken and will be given their heavenly reward. They may also use 1st Timothy chapter 4 as support. But I tend to think otherwise.

Leaving Timothy’s letter out of it (it is a tenuous link anyway), the context makes it clear if the righteous are taken or left behind. Jesus points to the past, “Back in the day of Noah…” The question to ask then is, “Was the lives of the righteous taken away or left behind?” It was Noah and his family who were the righteous ones, and they were left behind. A similar question could be asked of the thief in the night; “Are the goods of the righteous (those who stayed awake) taken away, or are they left behind?” If someone was not watching, the goods would have been stolen.

To counteract the rapture theory, the context of the “left behind” passage seems to suggest that we want to be left behind! The righteous (Noah and his family) were ‘left behind’; the goods of the righteous (those who stayed awake) were ‘left behind’; so surely those who are prepared for the coming of the Son of Man will also be ‘left behind’.  It is the final separation between the righteous and the unrighteous which we need to be prepared for.

And of course, if you happen to be working in the field and they start to rise to heaven, don’t grab their shoes thinking they’re going to get there.