Thursday, February 12, 2009

Our Mother

The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother, Galatians 4:26

The passage above occurs in the context of Paul making the case of the Church being superior to Judaism, most specifically in the way of faith's superiority to the Law of Moses. The Jerusalem above is contrasted with "the present Jerusalem" (v. 25). But what do we learn from Paul's use of the term, "mother" in this context?

The early Church appropriated many of the terms used in the writings of the Old Testament. Jerusalem stands in for the Church, as we read in another context,
I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband, (Rev. 21:2). By referring to the Church as our mother, Paul is directing our attention to the place of the Church in our lives.

The Church nourishes us and guides us in the teaching of the Word and the giving of the Sacraments. She is truly our Mother in that she cares for us. The Church is fleshed out for us in the bishops. They are the ones entrusted with the teaching office of the Church. All of the bishops together in union with the Pope constitute for us what is known as the Magisterium. They are the ones we look to for definitive statements regarding faith and morals. For any question, we go to our Mother.

Paul states elsewhere that the Church is
the pillar and bulwark of the truth, (1 Tim. 3:15). This means that the Church is infallible. She is looked to for truth. So she must be visible. People need to know where they can go to find the truth. They find it in the Church. For the Church teaches only what was given to her by Christ, who is Himself, the way, and the truth, and the life, (Jn. 14:6).

Unfortunately, too many people believe otherwise. Instead of listening to the sure guide of the Scriptures, they choose to listen to their favorite Bible teachers interpret the Scriptures. They forsake the Church and then invent something new to take its place. They refer to their own churches, but what authority do they have? What credibility do they have? They all teach different from what was believed from the beginning.

Only the Catholic Church teaches in fullness what was given from the beginning. That is why we can confidently look to her as our Mother. She can be trusted. She can be followed. She will guide us safely home to eternal life.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Clothed With Christ

For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Galatians 3:26,27

Could it be any clearer that baptism is necessary to regeneration? Paul links faith and baptism here. It is similar to what our Lord said in the Gospel, "
He who believes and is baptized will be saved," (Mk. 16:16). Faith is not merely an intellectual assent to truth. Nor is it a decision made once in the mind, but never, or rarely, acted upon in the life. Faith requires action. Faith apart from works is dead, (Jas. 2:26). That initial action is baptism.

Paul tells us here that when we are baptized, we put on Christ. The picture is of one who removes his former filthy, worn out garment, and dresses himself in a brand new clean one. This is what has happened to us in baptism. The filth and stain of sin was removed. Then we were given the spotless garment of Christ Himself to cover us.

Baptism is not merely a symbol of this action, it is the action. God chooses to work His grace through this sacrament. It is hard for some people to believe this. They think it smacks of magic, or superstition. But that is not true. God can do anything. He has chosen to use blessed water to be the means by which one is born again into His Family, the Church.

So, one may ask, how does this apply to infants who have not yet believed. The children of believing parents are members of the covenant made with God in Christ along with us. Thus we read of entire households that received baptism (Acts 16:15, 33; 18:8). On the day of Pentecost, St. Peter made it clear that baptism and all its benefits, including the gift of the Holy Spirit, was to be given, not only to us, but to our children (Acts 2:38, 39). This works much the same way as it did in the Old Covenant when the children of the Israelites received circumcision, the sign of the covenant made with Abraham in faith, at 8 days old. The children were henceforth considered to be part of the covenant people along with their parents.

Faith and baptism are intended to be linked together in such a way as not to be separated. But they have been separated. What is the result? There are many who have not received the grace of baptism that think of themselves as believers. There are also those who minimalize the importance of baptism and either refuse it, or think nothing of it when they do receive it. Baptism appears as an empty ritual to them, void of meaning.

As we see again the words of St. Paul above, we should be convinced that baptism is much more than empty ritual. It is the means by which we are clothed with Christ. It is that moment when we are initiated into the Faith of Christ.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Confronting Peter

But when Cephas came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, Galatians 2:11

Yesterday I wrote about visiting Peter, that is, his successor, the Pope. I wrote of the need for our submission to his authority; that authority which was given to him by our Lord. Yet, today we find Paul opposing Peter. How do these two go together?

The Church believes in papal infallibility. But only under some very restricted circumstances. When the Pope makes a definitive statement regarding faith or morality, we believe the Holy Spirit guards his decisions from error (see Jn. 16:13). But this does not make the Pope himself infallible. He is still a man subject to the same failings as any man. Our text illustrates this frailty in the very first Pope, St. Peter himself.

Over the years there have been good Popes and bad ones. Fortunately, the good ones far outweigh the bad ones. But from time to time it has become necessary to oppose Peter. Like the situation in our text, the Pope's actions can sometimes bring grave scandal. In those times, he must be opposed. This does not strike against our belief in papal infallibility, but rather preserves it. That is to say, that we demand the Pope act like the Pope.

Having said that, I do not believe we are anywhere close to that with the present Pope. His actions back up his words. He demonstrates humility, but it is clear that he is well qualified to teach and to lead the Church. We are blessed to have him at this time in history, and I urge all to pray for him daily.

Paul opposed Peter because it was absolutely necessary. It was not intended to set a precedent or a rule of practice. In fact, it is notable because it was such a rare exception to the rule. As long as Peter is teaching and leading in the same Faith entrusted to him by our Lord, we have an obligation, as I wrote yesterday, to submit to him.

Again, today, I find myself in need of the reminder that I must visit Peter, and visit often. I pray the day does not come when he must be opposed. And for those who have separated themselves because they feel this is still necessary, I urge you to re-examine the situation. The unity of the Church is safeguarded by our submission to Peter. Let the divisions cease, and let us go together in humble submission to visit Peter.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Visiting Peter

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, Gal. 1:18

Paul states here that the purpose for his visit on this occasion was to visit Peter. It was not just to go to the Mother Church of Jerusalem. It was not to see the apostles all together. It was specifically to see Peter.

This is one of many references that show that the infant Church recognized Peter uniquely as the leader. This principle has come to underlie the Catholic teaching of the papacy. We believe that Peter was essentially the first Pope. That is, he was chosen by our Lord to be the rock on which He would build His Church. Our Lord granted him unique authority when He first made him personally the one granted to bind or loose (see Matthew 16:18,19).

Paul's desire to see Peter is to be in communion with the vicar of Christ. It is to be one with the chief of the apostles to whom alone was given the keys of the kingdom of heaven. It would appear that Paul's Judaizing opponents were using Peter to support their cause. Paul's appeal here is to show that there is no division between himself and Peter. Rather, Paul has submitted to Peter's authority in presenting that message which was given to him by direct revelation of our Lord. The conclusion was that Peter would go to the Jews, and Paul would go to the Gentiles.

This whole episode causes me to ask, however, exactly to what extent am I willing to visit Peter? I am Catholic. But is that all that is required to be in communion with the See of Peter? I don't think so. Our Lord has entrusted Peter, and his successors, with the task of feeding the sheep. He is a teacher. What is he saying?

This role of teacher and shepherd does not only apply to the current Pope, but the Popes throughout history. What have they been saying? What word of the Lord has proceeded from the chair of St. Peter?

The Pope is continually teaching, guiding, and leading. But I don't often know what it is he's saying. I need to know. Not only that, but I also need to obey. This is the hard part. I don't want to have to do that. I still want to retain the right to chart my own course and determine truth for myself. That was fine enough when I was a Protestant, but not now that I am a Catholic.

To be Catholic is to submit to the Church. To submit to the Church is to submit to the Pope. The reason there are so many other denominations is right here. We do not want to submit. We want autonomy. But St. Paul is our example. Few of us have as good a reason to separate from St. Peter as he did. Yet, he submitted himself to Peter. He looked for unity. So he came to Jerusalem to visit Peter.

As Galatians continues, we see that there was a time when a dispute arose between Peter and Paul. But I will save that for a future reflection. For the time, the lesson for me is that I need to visit Peter (the Pope)- through his writings- and submit to what he teaches.