Friday, June 11, 2010

"Be ready at all times to give a reasoned defense for the hope within you"

Watch out!!!!! Louise on A SOAPBOX

Dear Friend,

Thank you for your gift to me because I know that it is an expression of your love and concern. You fear that I have veered onto the dangerously wrong path of Catholicism. My dear friend, I am moved to share with you, the depth of my commitment to Christ and the ancient Catholic Church. I actually love my faith, the oldest of all Christian denominations, Catholicism! As you love Christ, so also do I love Him but my love is bound inextricably to the historic original Church that alone traces its lineage directly from the twelve apostles. My reversion back to my childhood faith was not an emotional decision at all. I was not lured back to Catholicism with any emotional high or drama. If I had relied on my own feelings and wishes I would have surely remained a Protestant. No, it was rather study, conviction and I believe grace that led me back to the Catholic Church.

I do understand clearly many of the differences in doctrine, especially regarding salvation between our two faiths. As you are aware, I too, was committed to the ‘faith alone’ teaching for many years. The Catholic position is that we are NOT saved by faith alone but rather we are, as scripture states “saved by GRACE through faith so that no man may boast” Eph 2:8. As such it is not belief and profession alone but rather grace that saves. It is the sovereign action of God in a soul’s life, through many means of grace, which draws a soul continually into a saving faith, a faith that lives out its convictions. The words, saved by 'faith alone’, simply are not found in scripture. There are many scriptures however, that connect grace to faith. This is what Catholic doctrine actually teaches and I am convinced of its truth. We are in agreement however, that salvation is the free gift of God. We do not, cannot merit it by any work, separated from living faith but our works do play a crucial role according to Scripture. James expresses the union clearly, “Faith without works is dead”. James 2:18 “You show me your faith without deeds and I will show you mine by what I do.” It is real faith, producing actual works or ‘fruit’ that Jesus Himself, uses as the means of His identifying (knowing) a true disciple. Thus, fruit is clearly integral to living faith. "You shall know them by their fruits." Matt 7:16

As you are aware, there is a kind of belief in God and a 'knowing' of Him and his true nature that does not produce fruit. James 2:14-26 “ the devils believe and tremble”. Obviously they not only refuse service to Christ but they are in fact, ‘workers of iniquity’. They tremble I assume, because they know who Christ is. I believe that our salvation resides not so much in our "knowing" Him, as in "HIS" knowing us. I remember when I was a Protestant, faith was all about ‘knowing the Lord’. “ Do you know the Lord”? I asked and was asked that question many times. These words of Christ are worth considering. (Matt-21: 7) “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but rather he who does the will of my Father, who is in heaven, will enter.” His applicants go on to claim to have done great works for Him, in His name even, yet He declares to them, “I never knew you. Depart from me you evildoers”. "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! " Matt 7:21-23. Christ rejects them, based on the fact that He does not recognize them as His own, (He does not 'know' THEM) and He uses the criterion of their behavior to determine this 'knowing'. They are “ workers of “iniquity” as some translations recount. They are "evilDOERS." They DO evil! So, while they lay claim to salvation based on having done works for Jesus, the Lord rejects them instead, as doers of iniquity, or those who practice lawlessness. They are lost despite their spiritual works and their 'KNOWING' Him because He does not "KNOW" them. They have rejected God by continuing in sin and despite the many positive spiritual works they have performed in His name, He outright rejects them for being lawbreakers and evildoers. The law is surely God’s Moral Law, and iniquity, is offence to that law, yet they know Him enough to call Him rightly, "Lord, Lord" and perform mighty works in His name. This passage, it seems to me, should give great pause to those who take their salvation for granted. What a person believes, ultimately bears great weight on how that person will live and how a person lives, (according to Jesus Himself) will determine whether or not the Lord "KNOWS" him or her on judgment day.

I also have had the "born again" experience, but although it was powerful gift of grace in my life, I do not consider IT my salvation. In light of Catholic understanding, these words of Paul concerning salvation make perfect sense, “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” If salvation is a process in which we ‘work it out’ then surely fear and trembling are legitimate and we indeed play a crucial part in finishing the race, as St. Paul declares. “run the race as if to gain the prize”, “I was saved, I am saved, I am being saved”. These scriptures and many, many more, indicate that our salvation is an ongoing action/process not a one-time event. As such, I do not presume salvation but rather, I hope for it with the assurance of an ever-deepening faith, and an ever deepening committment to the living out of that faith.

Perhaps you don’t accept that free will is a gift of God to humanity, but I am convinced of it. Being a firm believer in this, I understand our freedom to choose, as an indispensable characteristic of being human. It is free will that places us a little lower than the angels and indeed ‘made’ in God’s image. We were made ‘able’ to choose good and or evil by God’s will, by His decision. Joshua 24:15 “ Choose this day whom you will serve”. “But as for me and my house . . . we will serve the Lord”. We are able to choose by God’s will and His design.

He will woo us, He will graces us, He will chastises us but he will never force anyone to serve Him, not even someone who formerly pursued and followed Him, such as the infamous Judas. This has been my experience anyway. For God to force salvation on an unwilling soul, even one who was once willing, contradicts everything I know personally of God. It undermines, I believe, a certain dignity that God has bestowed on man and seems also to presume too much about the state of another person’s soul, at any given moment.

So the notion that once a person “Accepts Christ, he then forfeits free will and can never again reject Christ’s lordship, contradicts not only my own personal knowledge of God but also the plain words of scripture. It simply is not a reality that I recognize. I know several people who fall into this category, people who were once 'believers' and who now choose their own path in rejection of Christ's morality. The Fundamentalist answer to this seems to be that his or her original ‘salvation’ didn’t actually, truly happen, or that he is currently backslidden and is destined as one of the elect, to return to the Lord's service, or is saved regardless of his or her own sinful choices and behavior and lack of fruit or even willingness to call out the words “Lord, Lord”. In light of Protestant thinking these interpretations makes some sense, except for the overriding issue of free will. The Catholic position of salvation being a process in which we are radically free at any moment to either choose discipleship through obedience or to reject God by disobedience, makes far greater sense to me. The Catholic teaching produces what I consider a Holy fear of the Lord. If our salvation is bound to our own choices then truly we must become humble people willing to repent and seek grace each time we fall, that is, if we are to have any hope at all of finishing the race. It produces humility. By contrast the fundamental Protestant teaching, produces in effect, an indifferentism to the moral law. For example most Mainline Protestant denominations take no stand at all against abortion a clear moral travesty!. If adhering to the moral law ultimately does not matter to salvation, then human nature, such as it is, will choose the downward path. I fear the words of Christ on this issue. They are a clear warning against ignoring the moral law which is an embodiment of His Spirit.

Catholic thinking on this most crucial issue is simple and clear. God gives us grace to choose to serve Him. We are free at any time to serve him or to reject His Lordship and serve another, our own sinful desires, wealth, riches etc. God’s love will not force service to himself. He will, however, never stop trying to draw a lost and sinful soul back home to Himself by His great love and mercy. The choice of sin results in the loss of grace for a soul. Grace can be and is restored through the Sacraments and true sorrow and repentance or Confession. We are saved by grace through faith. The nature of Sacrament is also radically incarnational

A careful reading of Heb 10:26-30 clarifies Catholic teaching on this and simply put, makes sense.

This passage in Hebrews clearly refers to a fallen away believer, someone who has received the truth, has been “sanctified” and then has “deliberately” chosen to continue in sin, trampling the “Son of God underfoot”, and insulting the “spirit of grace”, indicating an already existing relationship with both the Lord and the Holy Spirit.

These topics my dear friend, are only some that I have thought about and considered deeply. I have come to appreciate and accept Catholic teaching on them. In fact I have yet to find a truly Catholic explanation of any problematic topic that I have not found to satisfy my deepest concerns and questions and God knows that I certainly ask a lot of questions. I have thoroughly explored various issues of morality from birth control, abortion, divorce and remarriage, human sexuality etc. and have found the Catholic viewpoint to be both scriptural and life giving. BUT . . .

Mostly, the reason I will never again leave the Catholic Church is that I am completely and thoroughly IN LOVE WITH!!! , the central doctrine of the real presence of Jesus, body blood soul and divinity in the Holy Eucharist. “This is my body. This is my blood. Take and eat." . ."My flesh is true food my blood is true drink” John (6:55). “I am the true manna which came down from heaven”, versus what kind of manna? Is not always the fulfillment greater than the Old Testament “shadow”? In the Old Testament, God miraculously gave the Israelites real food from heaven, food that sustained them physically for forty years in the desert. Jesus gave real food as well, but as could be expected. . . it is a real food that (in His own words) superceeds immeasurably the Old testament manna. He gave us Himself, which is food both physical and divine, superceding the O.T. ‘shadow’ beyond human comprehension. It is food for our journey through this life. He clearly declares it to be so. In (John: 6) take note of why Christ’s followers left Him! They took Him literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, and He DID NOT correct them. When He made no further clarification they left Him, declaring, “This is a hard saying. Who can believe it?” How can a man eat another’s flesh?" Their incredulity at His words reveals the true nature of His intent. They simply could not understand and accept the radical nature of His meaning. It would have been so simple for Jesus to have just explained to them that He only meant a symbolic presence. He didn't.

I truly believe that in giving us His body and blood, Jesus gave us the greatest parting gift that he could. What does a person do if he knows he is going to die? He gives an inheritance to those he loves, that which is most precious to Himself. “Unless you eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” If the Old Testament Manna was a foreshadowing of its final fulfillment in the Last Supper, is it really logical to think that only a symbol, as most of Protestantism teaches, is the completed fulfillment of the real, actual miracle of Manna raining down from heaven, a miracle which sustained the Israelites physically throughout their journey of forty years? The New Testament fufillment is always greater than its Old Testament shadow! Do you remember the offering Melchizadek made to God in the Old Testament? It was bread and wine, another foreshadowing. I believe this is the only place in scripture that refers to bread and wine as a priestly offering to God. (Gen14: 18) The scripture declares that Jesus is a priest in the order of Melchizadek. What does the Catholic priest still offer to God today in obedience to the command of Christ at the last Passover/ first Mass? Bread and wine and in return the Father gives back the True Manna, which comes down from heaven, Jesus. And what about the first Passover? What exactly did the Jews do with the lamb after it was slaughtered, after the blood was smeared on the lintels?" They ate it. They literally ate the sacrifical lamb and it became their sustenance.

The following passage from Malachi is another O.T. foreshadowing which points to the Mass.

Malachi 1:11 KJV
For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same my name shall be great among the GENTILES; and in EVERY PLACE incense shall be offered unto my name, and a PURE offering: for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of hosts.

Today there is indeed one sacrifice that is still being offered from the rising of the sun to its setting in every place . . . continuing even today from the very founding of Catholicism, the ongoing sacrifice of the Mass, found in every nation and among the all of the ‘heathens’ just as Malachi predicted. Malachi was obviously not referring to a Jewish sacrifice in the Jewish temple, but rather a sacrifice offered everywhere on the earth among all peoples “the heathen”. Where else on Earth is there a universal sacrifice that is EVERYWHERE, ONGOING and PURE? I know of only one, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox liturgies, both offering bread and wine, by the Apostolic Priesthood, which then becomes the true manna the PURE sacrifice, every single day, pretty much everywhere, Jesus the Lord! There is nothing even resembling the fulfillment of Malachi’s prophecy within fundamentalism. There is no ongoing universal and pure sacrifice within Protestantism. What about Malachi?

Only Jesus is PURE and thus only Jesus can be the fufillment of Malachi's phophecy. Protestantism must spiritualize the meaning of Malachi's words for it to make any sense at all. The very religion which prides itself on 'Sola Scriptura' cannot take Malachi literally, because that same system fundamentally rejects the literal words of Christ on the all important issue of the Eucharist. In every place that the Lord Himself emphasizes His Body and Blood as true food, The Protestant doctrine must and does reject the literal in favor of the spiritual. It spiritualizes Christs words while Catholicism accepts His words on faith. For the past two millenium the Catholic Mass has presented to God the Father a pure sacrifice daily, from the rising of the sun to its setting, indeed from its very conception, fufilling this beautiful prophecy of Malachi for the Gentile heathen.

It makes perfect sense to me then, that Jesus meant exactly what He said when he spoke of His body and blood. Catholics take Him literally. We take Him at his word. If a symbolic understanding of communion is the great fulfillment, Jesus last wish, (“Eagerly have I desired to eat this Pasch with you.”) Luke 22, then why have so many fundamentalist churches abandoned the practice altogether? His parting gift being relegated to once a month or as is practice in some churches, once a year? Having now received Jesus into me during Holy Communion at least twice a week for many years, I realize that I can never again leave the Catholic Communion. It is the source and summit of my faith just as the Church declares it should be for Catholics. Jesus is the Center of my life and my ability to take him literally into my very being, is a treasure that I thank Him for each time I attend Mass.

So _______, please be at ease about me. My faith is certain and my life will, I trust, bear out my faith. I fully intend to cross the finish line as one who races for the prize. I know you do also. I do not fear for your salvation because I know that you follow your beliefs wholeheartedly and it is the heart that God judges. I wish for you the same confidence about my walk with the Lord. Rather in charitable love, we must continue to pray for one another as true sisters in Christ, holding firm to that which we do share, our mutual love for God. We can be an example of charity in understanding our differing views of salvation and religion. Although there are many things we disagree on, we can both agree, I trust, that we both know, it is Jesus who ultimately saves us! I have written you all of this, so that you understand that I have not come to my convictions lightly, but only after much sincere seeking, study and growth. Ultimately the proof is in the putting so to speak and you shall know them by their fruit. Knowing myself better I believe that my Catholic faith has helped me to conform better and with a more loving heart to Christ and my neighbor.

Love always,
Your sister in Christ,