Friday, October 24, 2008

One Issue

In these days leading up to our Presidential Election, the candidates are fighting furiously to make their last pitches and attempt to woo the voters who have yet to make up their minds. In Christian circles a lot of rhetoric has flown around regarding abortion and other life issues. The bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States have come out boldly to say that there is really one defining issue that overrides all others- life.

If the right to life is not protected at every level from conception to natural death, it becomes foolish to speak of any other rights. The economy, health care, or the war in Iraq dwindle in comparison to whether or not certain people within society should be allowed to even live. Let me illustrate.

Suppose we had someone running for President who had an ingenious program to cure the ills of the economy, health care, and the war, but this person was unashamedly for eliminating approximately 1.4 million African-Americans within the first year of his presidency. Would we think that it's just one issue and we shouldn't be one issue voters? Of course not! There would be outrage- as there should be. We would see it for what it is- bigoted, discriminatory, hateful, and abominable. Substitute any minority or grouping you like and the result is the same. But for some unfathomable reason, when that group is unborn children, it doesn't seem to be so serious. The fact of the matter is that if a candidate for President wanted to eliminate 1.4 million whales or bald eagles the country would be in an uproar.

How did we get to this place where we value everyone and everything more than the most innocent and defenseless among us? Is it because they don't vote? Is it because they don't spend money on campaigns? Just what is it that has reduced us to such an inhuman standard?

While I cannot expect the sinful element of the world to understand these things, it should be obvious to those of us who hold to the Faith of Jesus Christ. So it is to you I plead that you will not see the issue of life as one issue among many, but simply as the one issue. Everything else pales in comparison. I hope and I pray that you will be faithful to the teaching of our Lord who come to save life, not destroy it. In doing so, I hope that you will vote that life may be preserved.

Are we one issue voters? Perhaps. But in thinking about it, is there really any other issue?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Last Things

I believe in the resurrection of the body and life everlasting

The two last tenets of the Creed deal with the last things. That is, they are about death, judgment, and eternity.

"The resurrection" in this phrase does not deal directly with the resurrection of our Lord. It is about our own resurrection. Our resurrection will occur because Christ has already been raised. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. We will all die. But we also all be raised. This resurrection will occur when our Lord returns to judge the living and the dead. When we are raised we will be judged. Those who have done good will receive the resurrection to eternal life, but those who have done evil will receive the resurrection to eternal torment (see Jn. 5:28,29).

There is a teaching that those who are Christians will not be judged for their works since they are saved by faith. This is not entirely true. Jesus said we will be judged by our works and so did Paul. In fact, virtually every passage of Scripture dealing with judgment says we will be judged by our works. However, what is necessary to understand is that our works must flow from faith. We are not saved because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done. If we truly believe that we will do good works in obedience and gratitude to our Lord. As James says, faith without works is dead.

If we remain true to Christ until death we have His promise of eternal life. We believe that we will be with Him forever. This is eternal life, to know God (Jn. 17:3). To be with Him forever is eternal life. This is the goal of our faith. It is the end for which we strive daily in our warfare against sin. It is why we struggle to indeed be holy as our Lord is holy.

No one knows the day or the hour in which our Lord will return. So we must live each day, indeed each moment, as if it is our last. We must always have an eye on eternity and live with kingdom values in view.

This is our Faith. May all who read these posts be brought near to our God to receive His love and mercy in our time of need!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

The Forgiveness of Sins

I believe in the forgiveness of sins

This the core of the Gospel- the good news. God has sent His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, to give His life for us that we could be forgiven and reconciled to Him. This is what makes it good news. It's not that we're sinners deserving God's wrath. It's not that we're going to hell. That's not good news. Rather it is that while those things would have been true were it not for Christ, now we can be forgiven and restored.

In the Nicene Creed this is broadened to be, "I believe in one baptism for the forgiveness of sins." Baptism is important. It is not merely a ceremony or a sentiment. It is a sacrament. That is to say it is something tangible that God uses to communicate His grace to us. Christ has died and risen again. Whoever believes in Him will receive the forgiveness of sins. Baptism is the means God has provided to complete that transaction.

When our Lord Himself received baptism from John, He blessed the water by His presence. Baptism did not affect Jesus, rather He affected baptism. In doing so He provided for water to be the means by which new birth could take place. Thus He says, Unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (Jn. 3:5).

When we are baptized, we enter into Christ's death and resurrection. It is as if we step out of time for that moment and find ourselves placed into Christ at the moment of His death and resurrection. Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life (Ro. 6:3,4).

Baptism washes away all sin. We are completely clean, even cleaner than when we were born, for baptism also washes original sin with which we were born. For those who receive baptism later in life, there is the joy of knowing that they are indeed clean. They have been forgiven. What a joy! What peace this brings to our life.

We also believe that infants can receive baptism. That is because our Lord told us to let the little children come to Me and do not forbid them (Mt. 19:14). Baptism of infants is for Christians. It is done with the idea that the parents will raise the child in the Faith so the child will come to personal belief at the appropriate age. In the Scriptures we are told of a number of occasions when entire households were baptized. This would include any children of any age.

But what if we sin after baptism? Is there no hope? There is! Christ has also given us the sacrament of reconciliation. People commonly refer to this as Confession. It is a wonderful time when we go to unburden our souls. The priest serves in the place of Christ who is always ready to grant forgiveness. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins (1 Jn. 1:9).

The Gospel is all about the forgiveness of sins. This is why Christ came. This is what it's all about. Too many people focus on the negative aspects of Christianity. But it's really about something positive. It's about freedom; freedom from sin and freedom to live in holiness as is our call from the creation.

Come to Me all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest (Mt. 11:28). Wherever you find yourself today, come to Jesus, confess your sins, receive His forgiveness and be made free.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Communion of Saints

I believe... in the communion of saints

The Communion of Saints; what is that? Some would imagine it means that all Christians are one body in Christ. It does mean that, but it also means more. It refers to the idea that all Christians, whether alive on this earth, being purified in purgatory, or alive in the presence of God in heaven, are one body in Christ. It means that we are partakers, or sharers, in Christ, and, by extension, all other Christians. We are one in Christ and one with each other.

Just as a body shares all of its resources with each of its members, so it is with the body of Christ as well. Prayers and merits of the saints benefit those of us still in our earthly pilgrimage, as well as those in purgatory. Our prayers and sacrifices here on earth can be of help to those in purgatory. And even those in purgatory can help those of us here on earth. This is what we mean by the Communion of Saints. It is this ongoing flow of grace between all the members of Christ's body.

The doctrine of the Communion of Saints brings us much comfort. We can still communicate with our loved ones who have died in the Lord. We can pray for them. And they can pray for us. So many things continue unbroken.

This doctrine is also a reminder of our call to live in holiness. It give us pause to ponder our state. Are we in a state of grace? Are we striving to live as saints? Do we take the time to ponder what our sins truly deserve and how we can demonstrate our repentance? Are we living a life of prayer?

The Communion of the Saints also provides inspiration. For we are helped by the prayers of the Saints. Those heroic men and women who died in such sanctity in Christ our at our side helping us in our own spiritual warfare. They are our friends and aides. They are our cheerleaders and benefactors. It is with great thanks that we realize that we do not fight this fight of faith on our own, but we are assisted by numerous saints and angels in the process.

Most prominent among the saints is the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of our Lord and our mother in faith. She is ever faithful in her prayers for us and a most effective intercessor as God has granted her the place of Queen of heaven. In addition, we have the help of our guardian angels, patron saints, and all the rest of the heavenly family.

The Communion of Saints reminds us that we have not only been converted to Christ, but we have also been made part of His Church. In Him, we enter into this wonderful Communion. Through Him, and through their prayers, we are made fit for heaven. This world and all that we see and know is only part of the picture. What is not seen is just as real and powerful. We are striving for a kingdom that is unseen. There we will have our eternal reward. Thanks be to God!

Monday, October 6, 2008

The Church

I believe in one, holy, catholic Church

After we confess faith in the Holy Spirit, we immediately move on to the Church. This is because the two are directly related. The Church has come into being through the Holy Spirit. He breathed it into life at Pentecost, guides it continually into all truth, and empowers it for its mission. He will ensure it is kept faithful until the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church is described in very precise language. It is one, holy, and catholic. The Nicene Creed adds the word "apostolic" as well. We will consider the meaning attached to those words by the Church itself in their formulation and continued faith.

The Church is one. This does not just refer to a generic unity. It means there is fundamentally one Church, and one Church only. Christ founded one Church, not thousands. He promised this one Church would be preserved by the Holy Spirit from error and would endure forever. The fact that there are other groups calling themselves churches, or claiming to be part of this one Church does not change the reality that there is only one Church. Furthermore, this unity is visible and organizational as well as spiritual and familial. That means that there is a visible organization called the Church. One is either part of it, or not. It is very easy to tell.

This obviously flies in the face of so much that goes under the banner of ecumenism and tolerance. Be that as it may, this truth cannot be ignored or modified. Jesus said He will build His Church, not churches. Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Men founded the rest. It is not to say that they have nothing to offer. There are many wonderful, Christian people affiliated with them. But there is still only one Church.

This Church is holy because the Holy Spirit brought her into existence, dwells within her, and guides her as mentioned above. That is not to say that everyone within her is holy. In fact, most of us aren't. But the Church is. It is by our incorporation into the Church that we are able to become holy. But none of us arrived that way. If such were the criteria for entrance, none of us would be here.

Many people, including many leaders, have done some very unholy things in the name of the holy Church. That is sad and unfortunate. Those who have died unrepentant will certainly answer for their ungodly actions. Having said that, it does not give the rest of us license to rebel against God's Church, or to act contrary to her teachings. As our Lord taught us, we are to do as they say, but not imitate their actions.

The Church is catholic. Notice I use a lower case "c" for that description. The proper name, "Catholic Church", is derived from this adjective. The term catholic means universal, or general. It was coined very early in the Church's history to distinguish the teachings of the true Church from those of heretics. What the true Church teaches is received in every place, time, and language. This is the catholic faith and the catholic Church. Heretics arose in one locality and departed in one or more aspects of doctrine from the teaching of the true Church.

The adjective has become an organizational name: the Catholic Church. Either way, it reflects that all of the Faith, without addition or deletion is held here unchanged from the beginning. For those who want to know what our Lord truly taught, they are able to look to the teaching voice of His Catholic Church.

The Church is apostolic. That is, its teaching and authority flow directly in unbroken succession from the first apostles, most notably from Peter, the chief of the apostles. He established his apostolic see, or authority, in Rome. Ever since, the bishop of Rome, who succeeds from Peter, has been looked to for specific guidance in this Catholic Faith. From about the 6th century to the present, he has been known as the Pope.

Since the Church was completely unified in its earliest days, there was no question about being in communion with the bishop of Rome. But since the days when many have split off from the Church, communion with the Pope has been a key factor in determining if someone is indeed part of the Catholic Church.

The Church that Jesus founded, then, is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church that can meet all of those criteria is indeed the one true Church of Jesus Christ. All the rest will try to change those words, their meaning, or the need to abide by them. As organizations, they are outside the Church. As individuals it may be that they are part of the Church even though they have chosen to be estranged from her.

St. Cyprian in the mid third century asked, "How can one have God for his Father who does not have the Church for His Mother?" So it is. To have Christ- to know Him deeply, one must be in His Church. So the call is issued as it has been for centuries: "The Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, 'Come!'"

Friday, October 3, 2008

The Holy Spirit

I believe in the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Blessed Trinity. We do not believe in 3 gods, but in one God who eternally exists in 3 distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. As the Nicene Creed more fully bears out, "We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son, He is worshiped and glorified. He has spoken through the prophets." Because He is God, we pray to the Holy Spirit, we worship Him, and we seek to be led by Him in our daily lives.

The Holy Spirit plays a very vital role in our lives. He makes known to us the will of God. He empowers us to overcome sin and live holy. He intercedes before the Father on our behalf. He provides gifts of various kinds to the Church. He does all of this and so much more.

The Holy Spirit has been entrusted with the guiding of the Church. He was promised for this purpose by our Lord before His crucifixion. He descended on the Day of Pentecost and has been faithfully guiding the Church into all truth ever since.

The Holy Spirit is gentle, like a dove. When He comes into our lives, He will gently lead us into paths of righteousness. But if we persist in refusing Him, He will be grieved and will eventually leave us to our own ways. We can repent and ask Him to return and He will. But this is very difficult. Once the Holy Spirit has been grieved away, we typically are not interested in having Him return. For this reason we must be careful to live according to the Spirit's direction and immediately repent when we realize we have sinned against Him.

Through the Holy Spirit, the Father communicates to us Spirit to spirit. This is a very deep communion. It is unlike anything that people can have with one another. Our God loves us so much that He has designed that we would be his own tabernacles- the dwelling place of His Spirit. This is the reason why our Lord Jesus Christ died and rose again; so that we could receive the Holy Spirit, and know God in this way.

This relationship with God is available to all, but not all receive it. The Spirit comes into our lives at baptism. The more we yield to Him and cultivate a relationship with Him, the better and more clear we hear His voice. If you do not yet know the Holy Spirit, you can when you believe in Jesus Christ and receive baptism. If you have already been baptized, you may come to know the Spirit more by praying to Him, reading the Scriptures and obeying His gentle leadings.

So it is that we pray continually, "Come Holy Spirit."

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Judgment

From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead

The article of the Creed on our Lord Jesus Christ finishes by proclaiming our faith in His return in power and glory to judge the living and the dead. In the Nicene Creed, which is the definitive statement of faith in the Catholic Church, this is expanded to say He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and His kingdom will have no end.

Christians believe that Jesus did not leave us for good. He promised to return for us so that "where I am, there you will be also." This is known to us as our Blessed Hope. When we use the word, "hope", we do not mean it in the sense that it is often used of not being sure that something will happen, but we hope it will. Rather, we use the word to reflect a rock-solid belief that it will happen. So it is that everything we do is staked on this hope.

But along with such a wonderful hope is also the sobering statement that our Lord is specifically coming back for the purpose of judging the living and the dead. For those who live close to Him, this is actually a comforting thought. For though we know of our weaknesses and failings, we are confident that His grace is greater than our sin. In the end we believe we will be saved through Him if we hold fast to the faith that was given to us. But for those who have rejected Him, and wandered far from Him, this is a fearful statement indeed.

We are told in the Sacred Scriptures that we will be judged by our works and our words. "The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation," (Jn. 5:28,29). "For every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned," (Mt. 12:36,37).

This makes sense. Our works and our words show what is truly in our hearts. They tell whether faith exists or not. Good works and good words flow from a good heart. Bad works and bad words flow from an evil heart. The tree is known by its fruit. So God will be seen to be fair and righteous and each of us will be given what we truly deserve.

Having said that, the fact of the matter is that every one of us truly deserves God's wrath. We have sinned and should receive the just punishment, which is death. But God, who is rich in love and mercy, has rescued us, as we have discussed in the previous articles, through the death, resurrection, and ascension of our Lord. So that whoever will turn from his sins and believe in Jesus Christ with all his heart will be saved from death and granted freely eternal life.

How do you know if you are ready? There is a simple test. Do you love His appearing? That is, are you looking forward to this Day with anticipation because you trust in the Lord's word and long to see your Beloved face to face? If so, then you have every reason to have a sure and steadfast hope of salvation. But if not- if the thought of this Day fills you with dread, and you long to put it off, or seek to escape, then it is a sure indication that all is not right with you. There is a need for you to find a place alone with God and tell Him of your fears. Allow Him to search your heart. Confess your sins, and put your trust in His saving love and power.

To be honest, I see a mixture of these attitudes in me. When I was younger I wanted to be sure to get married, have a family, and launch a career before Jesus returned. I suppose that's normal. But it indicates that I still had too much of a love for this present world in me. I still wrestle with wanting to accomplish certain things before I see my Lord. But He is faithfully chipping away at those things so that all I have is a yearning for Him and His kingdom. With that in mind, I gain more anticipation for this day, and with the saints of old I find myself calling out, "Come Lord Jesus. Come quickly. Amen."