A Church, “by Law Established”

There once existed a special and very privileged land, an island nation blessed in every respect with benign climate, fertile soils, an industrious people, and plentiful natural resources. Its Christian inhabitants were prosperous and happy, lightly ruled by monarchs and able to redress any grievance through a people’s assembly. Common lands surrounded towns and villages providing the industrious peasantry with acreage to till their fields and graze their cows. A protective ‘Common Law’ combined with a ‘Great Charter’ (Magna Carta) ensured a framework of basic rights, making this island kingdom a shining bulwark of freedom among its many feudal neighbors.

Furthermore, the Catholic Church, endowed with lands and property over the centuries by wealthy and pious patrons, provided sustenance for the poor through her manifest resources. This common religion aligned with common law to foster social harmony. There was no standing army or organized police. Crime and theft were at a minimum because everybody in a town was known to everybody else. Continue reading

Advertisements

The Passages of Time

Today marks the 25th anniversary of my father’s death. Dad was a person of sterling integrity as well as tremendous love for my mother and their eight children. But the real legacy he left us was a deep respect for, and the unwavering pursuit of, truth. For dad the eternal verities were dearer than life itself. Perhaps I did not fully appreciate his true genius in my younger days, but time has a way of changing our perspectives. What astounds me today is that a quarter of a century has passed away which, in retrospect, feels like a year at best.

Back when my father was just a small child, Albert Einstein discovered the truth that time is not a constant but rather a variable. True, because for us time feels like something that becomes more compressed the longer we measure it. It behaves like those layers of silt and debris which settle and are flattened into geologic formations so that one inch of sandstone might represent 10,000 years of earth’s history. Continue reading

Sacrifice in a Post-Calvinist World

This is the final part of a four part series on Sacrifice. See previous posts for parts 1,2, & 3.

History is curiously cyclical. Approximately 1,500 years after Moses instituted the Jewish ritual sacrifice, it was ruthlessly cut off by the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Approximately 1,500 years after Christ instituted his Eucharistic Covenant, a group of Christian would-be reformers ‘discovered’ that cultic sacrifice was no longer something useful. In fact, many went so far as to brand it idolatrous. In doing so they disconnected the Mass from its ancient Jewish ancestry of Temple sacrifice ─ and 15 centuries of unbroken Christian Tradition. Sacrifice, the very heart of religion, was thereby dismissed as either mistaken or irrelevant. Continue reading

The Elements of Sacrifice

This is the third in a four part series exploring sacrifice. Press the “Previous” button for parts 1 and 2.

Sacrifice consists of three necessary elements. First it requires an Offeror. The one who offers sacrifice must have the intent to offer something of real value back to God. Secondly, sacrifice requires an Offering. The offering must be something pure if it is to be sanctified (made holy) in order to be presented before God. Thirdly, the sacrifice needs a Recipient, that is some divinity to whom the sacrifice is presented as gift. These three elements, Offeror, Offering, and Divine Recipient are essential to offering any true sacrifice.

But how can sinful humans make an acceptable sacrifice to an all holy God? The one who makes the sacrificial offering is called a priest and for a pure offering to be made we need a sinless high priest. That priest is Jesus Christ who instituted a new priesthood distinct from the old Levitical priesthood. “Like Melchizedek, you are a priest forever.” (Ps. 110:4). Continue reading

Sacrifice: the Mystical Dialogue

This is the second post in a four part series. Click the ‘previous’ tab for part 1

If you want to drive a committed Darwinian crazy simply mention sacrifice because sacrifice is one of those quirky human traits that seemingly undermine every law of natural selection, primacy, or utility. Still, it keeps reappearing in many guises. Worse, nobody particularly likes making sacrifices and yet some innate moral sense seems to compel us to do it at times. (And to refuse would only mean losing one’s self respect.) So why would selfish creatures like ourselves ever make sacrifices?

Sacrifice has been a fundamental component of religion for thousands of years, from ancient pagan cults even up to our own day. But what exactly is sacrifice? Unfortunately, the word itself has been greatly stretched from its original Latin root which literally means, “to make sacred or holy.” Continue reading

The Sacrificial Imperative – Introduction

I am not a particular fan of Sigmund Freud’s theory of man which devolves around his so-called ‘Oedipus Complex’ and purports to explain some of man’s deepest primal drives. Nevertheless, the agnostic Freud clearly recognized a seemingly hard-wired cultural trait that repeatedly emerged among virtually every tribe, ethnic group, and civilization, namely the impulse to offer sacrifice. But what was one to make of this mysterious activity which made little sense to an enlightened ‘man of science?’ Hoping to distance this stubbornly recurrent phenomenon from its more natural psycho-spiritual moorings, the good doctor constructed an elaborate thesis to explain man’s predilection for sacrifice in psycho-sexual terms, Freud’s favorite home turf. He treats the subject extensively in his classic work Totem and Taboo which, despite its erroneous conclusions, does provide us with a compelling explanation of the causes and meaning of sacrifice. Continue reading

Angels, Partners in Salvation

One of the joys of Christmas is bringing the presence of angels back to the forefront of our consciousness. Angels are wondrous beings who reflect the unfathomable glory of the Creator. Unfortunately, as too often portrayed in popular culture, they come off as some semi-human celestial hybrids trying to ‘earn their wings.’ (Think of Clarence in “It’s a Wonderful Life” or Billy Bigelow in  “Carousel.”) On the contrary no angel ever had a body in some previous life nor shared in our human nature. Angels are purely spiritual beings created that way by God.

Perhaps the term ‘angel’ itself is misleading. St. Augustine observes that ‘angel’ is the name of their office, not their nature. In other words, it refers to their job description as messengers and servants of God. Continue reading

The Problem With Death

“The worst is death, and death will have his day.”  (Shakespeare, “Richard II”)

We are living in a culture where random psychotic violence has become alarmingly endemic. Yet I would venture that most of us have experienced our own close brush with death at some point in our lives. I am not just talking about so-called ‘near death’ experiences where somebody appears to die only to be unexpectedly revived but something far more common, the ‘close call:’ a mislabeled toxic vial that you nearly mistook for medication, an emergency appendectomy that saved your life, the speeding vehicle that narrowly missed sending you to your eternal reward. At such moments one can almost feel the cold icy breath of death on the neck.

Close calls produce a particularly chilling release of adrenaline, yet they also serve as periodic reminders of the fragility of life. After recovering from a life threatening illness do we not see life in a very different way? We suddenly remember how each day is its own special gift; not to be taken for granted. Our fear of death is inversely proportional to the joy and beauty we experience in life. Continue reading

Shocking Mockings

The declining sense of public decency sank to a new low in the aftermath of the tragic shootings in Sutherland Springs, Texas. I refer to the vicious mockery which broke out like a sour chorus among various “progressive” entertainers and journalists after various public calls to prayer and reflection were made. Actress Maria Sirtis summed up the progressive’s mood succinctly. “To all those asking for thoughts and prayers… it seems that your direct line to God is not working.” In other words, praying to God as such moments is a delusional, if not worthless, placebo at best and at worst, nothing more than self-indulgent superstition. So when are all you ignorant rubes going to figure out that your ‘unproven’ God doesn’t have all the answers? We progressives, on the other hand, could surely fix everything overnight (in the form of ever more intrusive social controls.) Continue reading

Thoughts on Luther’s Reformation

Yesterday marked the 500th anniversary of possibly the most momentous event in modern Western society. Martin Luther’s posting of his 95 theses on the church door at Wittenburg demarcates the transition from a medieval society going back to the era of Charlemagne into what we know as the modern world in many respects. Most Protestants today regard Luther as the sainted reformer of Christianity while other Christians would see him as a heretic who split the Church asunder. And while both views may have their respective merits (and passionate defenders) neither view provides a clear and dispassionate analysis of Luther’s methods and objectives. Continue reading