Jul 30, 2009

Back to school

Yup, after taking eight years to get my first degree, I'm enrolling to get another. And what's more - it's another bachelor's degree! Not even a graduate degree! I looked around for an IT Master's program that interests me, but there aren't any in the area. But there's a bachelor's degree in the area that interests me ...

The Diocese of Tulsa runs a Pastoral Studies Institute. They offer all kinds of Catholic classes and training; including credit courses to get a degree in Pastoral Ministry thru Newman University. If you already have an undergraduate degree, like me, then you only have to take 30 credit hours of theology courses to earn the Pastoral Ministry degree. And the classes are extremely cheap - $50 per credit hour! So the entire degree is $1,500 ... compared to a Theology Masters degree I looked at that cost $25,000!!

I'm pretty excited because I seem to spend lots of time studying theology anyway, so now I can earn a degree with it. The only down-side is I have limited time and I can't take as many classes as I want. :( Some classes this semester are:

  • Sacramental Theology

  • Gospel of St. John, Read Through Fathers of the Church and St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Old Testament Literature

  • Philosophical Foundations for Theology

Sadly I'm only able to enroll in Old Testament Literature this semester. I so want to take Philosophical Foundations for Theology. There's even a Lectio Divina class! Anyway, hopefully next semester I can take at least two classes. I'm also hoping they come up with some kind of Master's program during the 5 semesters I'll be doing the Bachelor's. ;)

Jul 28, 2009

understanding Baptism

I was out having breakfast with my parents the other day; we talked about our upcoming trip to Dallas for my nephews' (Catholic) baptisms. At some point, it came up that none of us are really sure if my oldest brother has been baptized or not. I said half-jokingly, "See this is why we Catholics just do it when they're babies!" To which my mom replied, also semi-jokingly, "Right, as if babies understand what's happening."

It's a pretty common Protestant position on infant baptism, and I can totally understand the reasoning - infants aren't capable of repentance or faith so baptism is really just meaningless for them, right?


As usual, there's a full theological survey out there for whoever is interested. (Here again, I'm compelled and persuaded by Dave Armstrong's Biblical evidence). When asking if infants should be baptized, keep in mind:
The two different answers to this question do not, by themselves, shed much light on the nature of the dispute between paedobaptists and credobaptists. To grasp the disagreement over infant baptism fully one needs to understand the roots of the disagreement.

The disagreement about infant baptism is grounded in differing theological views at a more basic level. Christians disagree about infant baptism because they disagree about the nature of faith, the role of baptism, the means of salvation, the nature of grace, and the function of the sacraments. Pedobaptism and credobaptism are positions which bubble up from theological views at a more fundamental level of one's theological system. --wikipedia

Since that full theological survey of "the nature of faith, the means of salvation, the nature of grace, and the function of the sacraments" is too big of a question for my 2 little lbs of gray matter and this little blog post, let's use some safer experimental evidence.

I was baptized on June 8 2008 by pastor Jeff from Agora. By this time I had been reading Catholic theology for a while and was about 50/50 on deciding to become Catholic. My belief in Sola Scriptura was gone, and my belief in Sola Fide was being refined. At the very least, I recognized how important the early Church considered baptism. In a way, my baptism was my first real step into the Catholic Church; and in a way, I'm glad it was Jeff who ministered. From that point on, we talked about Catholicism and my potential (inevitable?) conversion regularly and openly. A kind of grassroots micro-ecumenism that we continue today.

While the minister of my baptism was exceptional, the matter was not so much. A heated baptismal pool with plain ol' water in a church I had never attended. But both matter and form was 'valid' in the rules of the Church. So here comes the point ...

Truth be told, I never felt a big emotional or sentimental transcendence during my baptism. In fact, it wasn't until later, after I was able to reflect on it, that the full force of it hit me - and continues to hit me. I now share in a Tradition of Christianity dating all the way back to the first Christian church, to Christ himself. (And even further back into Jewish traditions too!) The odd thing is, with all the Catholic theology regarding the necessity of baptism, combined with all my Protestant inhibitions to avoid a "works-based" salvation ... I actually feel my faith grow as a result of my baptism. There's no way I could understand why God commanded us to be baptized or how baptism works. But that didn't matter. The point is that God commands it, and we act on faith in that command. As a result, my faith grew all the more.

This was the start of my new understanding of faith. It was exactly how James described it:
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by the works.

I believe God uses matter, form, and minister to convey his Grace. Whether the matter is His Incarnation or the water of baptism; whether the form is His sacrifice or the submission of baptism; whether the minister is Christ or Jeff. I believe we can work with God in His sacraments as he justifies and sanctifies us.

I intend to tap into that real power of Baptism for my daughter as early as possible. I don't know how, but I'll act on my faith that she will receive real Grace from it. Of course she doesn't understand how God's Grace works on us; but honestly, neither do I. The question isn't whether an infant understands baptism, it's whether any of us do? And if we don't, is it really necessary to understand, or is it enough to act on our faith?

Jul 14, 2009

What does Jesus taste like?

While Communion is fresh on my mind, I wanted to share some more thoughts on it. Back when I first decided to convert, one of my friends half-jokingly (I assume ... it was an email and it's hard to pick up on sarcasm and seriousness in emails) asked me, "What does Jesus taste like?"

At the time I had no idea how to answer because I had not completed my initiation and Confirmation, so I had never received Communion at a Catholic church. But I really did (no sarcasm) love that question - I love when huge theological topics can be accurately summed up in a few words. (Probably because I tend to ramble and so I'm bad at doing that myself.) And these days I'm much more comfortable with Christian mystery and generally not-knowing things about the Faith. Of course, now I've received Communion. And I have an honest, safe, truthful, and theologically sound answer ...

Jesus tastes like bread and wine.

Yup, you heard me. And no, I'm not a heretic. Underwhelming? Maybe.

There's already a bunch of great material out there on the whole transubstantiation thing. One of my favorites is from Dave Armstrong who even includes a fancy chart in his book! I think the most appealing language I read on it was this:
Indeed, transubstantiation is difficult for the natural mind (especially with its modern excessively skeptical bent) to grasp and clearly requires a great deal of faith. Yet many aspects of Christianity which conservative, evangelical, orthodox Christians have no difficulty believing transcend reason and must ultimately be accepted on faith, such as: the Incarnation (in which a helpless infant in Bethlehem is God!), the Resurrection, ... and the Virgin Birth, among many other beliefs. Transubstantiation may be considered beyond reason, yet it is not opposed to reason; suprarational, but not irrational, much like Christian theology in general.

I think of it like this - the notion that God can be present in bread and wine is no more absurd than the idea that God can be present in a man named Jesus, right? Now of course, even if it's possible that God *can* do it, there's still the whole question as to whether God *does* do it. Again there's a bunch of material out there, but I don't want to get into the whole Scriptural arguments for or against. Instead I want to think of this:
This presence of Christ in the Eucharist is called "real" not to exclude other types of his presence as if they could not be understood as real (cf. Catechism, no. 1374). The risen Christ is present to his Church in many ways, but most especially through the sacrament of his Body and Blood.

I believe God *does* give us His presence in many ways. I believe He loves us enough to try to get into us every way imaginable. I have felt Him in Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris, and also sitting at home on the couch with my wife; during Midnight Mass at Christmas, and playing Flashy Keeper (long story) with family and friends. I know what Jesus sounds like in our Gospel readings at Saint Benedict (which, btw, is why we stand for the Gospel reading during Mass), and in the worship music at Agora. I know what He looks like when I see Him hanging on a cross that should be mine. I smell His prayers in the incense of the Eucharist, and smell His love over a hot meal shared with friends.

I believe if God offers us His real presence in all these ways, He also offers it to us in Communion - the most physical way in which we can receive Him. He changes the substance of the host for us, we receive Him, and He changes our substance when He enters us so that we will share that love with our lives. I think Jesus tastes like Love.

Jul 13, 2009


Over at iMonk, I came across an interesting story about (Protestant) Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper "controversially" receiving Communion at a Catholic Funeral Mass. Apparently it was originally thought that Mr. Harper pocketed the wafer, but thankfully the priest who delivered the homily at the Mass set things straight in a graceful interview for National Post.

Anyone reading this blog knows I'm probably not as zealous as most Catholics with regards to some of the Church's restrictions; and I have to say that I completely agree with the following attitude from Fr. Bourgeois:

Generally those who partake in Holy Communion are members of the Church, but in some circumstances if someone [who is not Catholic] participates in a respectful way, not making a mockery of it, and they believe at that moment it is a special kind of bread, then once in a while it’s acceptable. When the Pope comes out and says mass to 100,000 people we don’t ask for a certificate of baptism and first communion. We hope they believe what we believe, ... It’s not the custom that we do it all the time but when it happens we shouldn’t make a big, big deal out of it.

The Catholic/Protestant divide over Communion is a subject that hits close to home for me. Every week I encounter the tension first-hand in that I no longer "take" communion at Agora, though I accompany my wife as she takes it. At the same time, I anticipate and really really enjoy celebrating Communion at St. Benedict - or the cathedral, or St. Bernard's, or St. Pius X, or wherever ;)

The struggle is even doubly so because I appreciate and indulge the idea of God's Real Presence in Communion so much!

I remember at an Agora leadership meeting we once discussed changing the way we did communion and the option was considered that we could simply make the elements available and make no mention of them. I can't have that - if we're kind enough to acknowledge each others' presence in the room, we can at least be kind enough to acknowledge Christ who offers himself in this very special way. Sure, in a Protestant setting it's only recognized as a symbol, but even Protestants should maybe err on the side of over-emphasizing the importance rather than under-appreciating it.

Another story ... one of my best friends was raised Catholic but they, in their words, "have not really been working on any kind of relationship with god as of late." Without explaining what might be sensitive details, I'll just say my friend received Communion with the Catholic Church recently for the first time in a long time. (Coincidentally, also at a Funeral Mass) They said, "the taste and the whole motion of things brought me back to an interesting place. I am very excited to start exploring this new found, hope, i suppose is a good word, i seem to have stumbled upon." I don't know of many mere symbols that can affect a person like this. A symbol's power, like beauty, is only in the eye of the beholder. The power of sacraments seem to transcend that and to tap into the powerful, real, Tradition that God reveals.

Like I said, I'm much less zealous about legal rules - like those that might inhibit a Catholic from receiving Communion without prior Confession. And I think we as Catholics (especially laity) could maybe err on the side of being over-supportive rather than under-supportive towards Christians who have a real desire to experience Christ's presence.