Thursday, November 27, 2014

Sola Fide vs Works of Mercy

Some Christians believe that in order to be saved, all one has to do is believe in Jesus.  They say that all our sins, past, present, and future, were all forgiven when Jesus died on the cross.  So if we believe in Jesus, we automatically go to heaven when we die.  This idea is called “sola fide.”  In other words, they say that our actions here on earth, including acts of compassion toward the poor and disadvantaged, ie., our “works,” do not help us get to heaven.  Christians who subscribe to this idea tend to cite a number of verses in St. Paul’s letters.  Okay, what did Jesus say?  Jesus’ words that seem to address this are found in the Gospel readings at Mass for the past two Sundays.  The first instance is the parable found in Matthew 25, the story of the “talents” given to a Master’s servants.  Two of the servants performed works with their talents while the third buried his in the ground.  When the Master returned after a journey (think Christ’s second coming), he was quite pleased with the first two and said “Come, share in your Master’s joy.”  But to the third, he said “Throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.”  The second instance is where Jesus discusses the end times, also in Matthew 25.  To those who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the ill, and visited the imprisoned he will say: “Come, inherit the kingdom prepared since the foundation of the world.”  But to those who did not do these things, he will say:  “Depart from me you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”  It seems in both instances that those who were cursed did, in fact, believe in him but did not perform works of mercy
            One might ask what Scripture passages from St. Paul’s letters support the sola fide idea.  In the interest of brevity, I will cite one such verse, one that seems to appear in most of the debates I’ve seen.  It is from Ephesians 2:  “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God – not because of works, lest any man should boast.” To say that this supports sola fide indicates to me that “works” here has been taken out of context.  If one considers the entirety of St. Paul’s discussion (including other letters), we see that he is talking about works “of the law,” probably meaning circumcision and other requirements for Jews under the Mosaic Law, not compassionate works of mercy toward the poor and disadvantaged.  My conclusion is that Jesus’ death did indeed open the pearly gates for us, but we still have work to do.  The verse cited from St. Paul says that we obtain salvation by grace through faith.  Part of what we must do, then, involves the sacraments, which are rites instituted by Christ to give us this grace.  Look for more on the sacraments in this blog in the weeks ahead. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all my faithful readers.  The photograph is of a wild turkey taken at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Onawa, Iowa.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Big Bang and the Existence of God

Recently I re-read one of my favorite books, “Who Made the Moon?” by Sigmund Broewer.  That, after I finished reading “Ancient Physics, Ancient Faith” by Stephen Barr.  So the Big Bang theory of the beginning of the Universe has been on my mind.  Physicists have observed that the known universe is expanding, meaning that galaxies, star clusters, and everything else out there are rapidly moving away from each other, giving the impression that everything used to be, a very long time ago, really close together – so close together that all matter and energy of the universe formerly was contained in a very small and tight space.  This tight space exploded at one point, thus sending all the matter that exists outward at a very fast clip and is giving us the impression that the entire universe is expanding.  This explosion has come to be known as the “Big Bang” and is believed by many to be the beginning of time and the beginning of the universe.  Of course this theory has been a boon to belief in God, the thinking being that the occasion of the explosion was the occasion of God creating everything from nothing.  There are many details that we could consider here, including parallels to the creation account in the Book of Genesis in the Bible.   However, I would like to suggest the Kenkel Theory of Multiple Possibilities (ha, ha … a name that I came up with just today).  I like to think that the universe is infinite and that we happen to be existing in a corner of this universe where there was perhaps an explosion way back when.  However, like the explosion of a bomb, or a fireworks display, or the popping of a balloon, the explosion may have been much more limited in scope than what the Big Bang theory espouses.  It may be that we simply have not yet been able to observe any part of the universe that is not expanding, even though it exists.  A small corner of the universe may be expanding, but that does not mean that the entire universe is expanding.  You might ask why a person like myself who believes in God, and that God created all that is, would not want to subscribe to a theory that supports His existence.  My answer is that all this work by physicists and philosophers is pure speculation and that we cannot know for certain anything more than what we can observe directly.  It’s all part of the Kenkel Theory of Multiple Possibilities.  One can make observations, and propose theories to explain the observations, but all of that may change with new discoveries.  And new discoveries do come along and change our thinking.  I’m hoping for a few more of those during my lifetime, because they create new theories and new speculations.  It is simply fun and exciting.  And one more point … God exists all right.  I can sense His Providence and fingerprints all over this mind-blowing universe, including in my life here on Planet Earth.

The photo is of a fireworks display, a minor explosion in a remote corner of our universe.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hearts, Sacred and Immaculate

For a very long time, the Catholic Church has had special devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and to the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  In fact, the first Friday of every month is set aside to honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus while the first Saturday of every month is set aside to honor the Immaculate Heart of Mary.  I know of Catholic churches and schools in Nebraska and elsewhere that are named Sacred Heart Catholic School and Sacred Heart Catholic Church.  And how many Catholic homes have a picture of Jesus with His Sacred Heart, and/or a picture of Mary with her immaculate heart, exposed for all to see?  So why is special attention given to the hearts, calling one “sacred” and the other “immaculate?”  As far as  Mary is concerned, she called herself "the Immaculate Conception" at Fatima and then requested the First Saturday devotion at that time while asking that Russia be consecrated to her Immaculate Heart.  She also had this to say:  "My Immaculate Heart will be your refuge and the way that will lead you to God."  The book “Catholicism for Dummies” explains it this way:  “The focus of the heart is merely a romantic and metaphorical way of describing the love of Jesus and the love of Mary.  It’s just like sending hearts to loved ones on Valentine’s Day even though you know that, biologically, the brain does the thinking and the heart merely does the pumping.  Even in the 21st century, you hear the words ‘heartache’ and winning someone’s ‘heart. ‘ ”   So it has to do with love, and I say why not have these devotions?  The thought of God’s extraordinary love permeating our own hearts, minds, and souls gives me great hope and joy.  And the thought of Mary, through her Immaculate Conception, interceding for us in heaven as an expression of her motherly love simply gives me goosebumps.  Today I pray that all of us will recognize the love of Jesus  and Mary for us and respond with prayer and thanksgiving, perhaps as an expression of our own love for God even if it can be but a small fraction of the love He has for us.      

The photograph is of the large statue of the Sacred Heart at the Trinity Heights Center in Sioux City, Iowa.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Gross," or an Extraordinary Gift?

Recently, I had a back and forth with a Facebook friend who took issue with my belief in the Eucharist being the actual body and blood of Christ.  This person is a professed Evangelical Protestant and he described the whole concept of Christ’s followers literally feeding on the body and blood of Christ as simply “gross.”  I couldn’t help but think that those in the audience that Christ had when he first introduced the concept to his disciples in the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, could have used this same word to describe what they were hearing.   They were probably thinking it, at least, as John tells of how they were “murmuring” (could they have been saying “Oh, man, this is really gross!”) and how “many of His followers returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied Him.” We know that one thing they did say was “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”  Jesus could have taken control of the situation.  He could have said “Hold on!  What I will actually do is consecrate bread and wine and turn them into my body and blood.  It will still look and taste like bread and wine, but it will actually be my body and blood.  So, you see, it won’t be as gross as you are thinking.”  But He didn’t do that.  He apparently wanted them to realize that he would indeed be giving them His body and blood to eat and drink.  He even said “for my flesh is real food and by blood real drink.”  So, He let them walk away.  He then queried his twelve apostles, wondering if they, too, wanted to leave.  Peter answered Him with another question:  “To whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to know and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.”  They continued to follow Jesus believing that they would indeed feed on His flesh and blood one day and that this is what He wanted them to do.  It wasn’t until much later, at the Last Supper, that what Jesus had in mind for this would become clear and that the very first transubstantiation would take place.  How exciting it is to realize that over 2000 years later, I am among those who are saying to the Lord “We have come to believe and are convinced that You are the Holy One of God.”  What an extraordinary gift it is to be able to share in the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist at a Catholic Mass!
The photo is of the sanctuary of the chapel of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters in Lincoln, Nebraska, at a moment during the perpetual adoration of the body of Christ.