Candlemas 2024: And Before There Ever Was Groundhog Day, There Was…

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…Candlemas, a Christian holiday that remembers when Mary presented the Christ child at the Temple in Jerusalem and performed her purification (see below). Candlemas is also called the Festival Day of Candles, in which the parish priest would bless candles for use in the local church for the coming year and would occasionally send some of them home with his parishioners for them to use. It is one of the earliest known feasts to be celebrated by the Church.

Candlemas falls 40 days from the birth of Jesus because that is the day Mary would have completed her purification process as prescribed by the Law, which means that Candlemas always falls on February 2. It is the midpoint between the winter solstice and spring equinox and before there ever was a Groundhog Day (also observed on February 2), tradition held that when Candlemas fell on a sunny day, there was more winter to come. But when it fell on a cloudy, wet, or stormy day, it meant that the worst of winter was over. Check out the two Candlemas poems below and see if you recognize anything familiar in them:

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Come, Winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Go Winter, and come not again.
(Anonymous English poem)

If Candlemas day be dry and fair,
The half o’ winter to come and mair,
If Candlemas day be wet and foul,
The half of winter’s gone at Yule.
(Anonymous Scottish poem)

For you Christmas junkies out there, tradition also holds that any Christmas decorations not taken down by Twelfth Night (January 5) should be left up until Candlemas and then taken down. Candlemas also officially marks the end of the Christmas and Epiphany seasons, seasons in which the Church celebrates Christ as being the light to the world.

Now you know.

Candlemas 2024: An Ancient Account of How Candlemas was Celebrated in the Fourth Century

The Fortieth Day after Epiphany [Candlemas, February 14] is observed here with special magnificence, On this day they assemble in the Anastasis [Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem]. Everyone gathers, and things are done with the same solemnity as at the feast of Easter. All the presbyters [priests] preach first, then the bishop, and they interpret the passage from the Gospel about Joseph and Mary taking the Lord to the Temple, and about Simeon and the prophetess Anna, daughter of Phanuel, seeing the Lord, and what they said to him, and about the sacrifice offered by his parents. When all the rest has been done in the proper way, they celebrate the sacrament and have their dismissal.

—Egeria, Abbess, Pilgrimage 26: SC 296, 254-256

Pope Benedict XVI Muses on the Temptations of Christ

Writing on the Temptations of Christ, specifically the Devil’s challenge to our Lord to jump from the pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, Pope Benedict XVI writes [emphasis mine]:

The devil proves to be a Bible expert who can quote the Psalm exactly. The fact is that scriptural exegesis [the explanation of a biblical text] can become a tool of the Antichrist. The alleged findings of scholarly exegesis have been used to put together the most dreadful books that destroy the figure of Jesus and dismantle the faith.

The common practice today is to measure the Bible against the so-called modern worldview, whose fundamental dogma is that God cannot act in history—that everything to do with God is to be relegated to the domain of subjectivity. And so the Bible no longer speaks of God, the living God; no, now we alone speak and decide what God can do and what we will and should do. And the Antichrist, with an air of scholarly excellence, tells us that any exegesis that reads the Bible from the perspective of faith in the living God, in order to listen to what God has to say, is fundamentalism; he wants to convince us that only his kind of exegesis, the supposedly purely scientific kind, in which God says nothing and has nothing to say, is able to keep abreast of the times.

The theological debate between Jesus and the devil is a dispute over the correct interpretation of Scripture, and it is relevant to every period of history. The hermeneutical question lying at the basis of proper scriptural exegesis is this: What picture of God are we working with? The dispute about interpretation is ultimately a dispute about who God is. Yet in practice, the struggle over the image of God, which underlies the debate about valid biblical interpretation, is decided by the picture we form of Christ: Is he, who remained without worldly power, really the Son of the living God?

The point at issue is revealed in Jesus’ answer, which is also taken from Deuteronomy: “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut 6:16), This passage from Deuteronomy alludes to the story of how Israel almost perished of thirst in the desert. Israel rebels against Moses, and in so doing rebels against God. God has to prove that he is God. The issue, then, is the one we have already encountered: God has to submit to experiment. He is “tested,” just as products are tested. He must submit to the conditions that we say are necessary if we are to reach certainty. If he doesn’t grant us now the protection he promises in Psalm 91, then he is simply not God. He will have shown his own word, and himself too, to be false.

We are dealing here with the vast question as to how we can and cannot know God, how we are related to God and how we can lose him. The arrogance that would make God an object and impose our laboratory conditions upon him is incapable of finding him. For it already implies that we deny God as God by placing ourselves above him, by discarding the whole dimension of love, of interior listening; by no longer acknowledging as real anything but what we can experimentally test and grasp. To think like that is to make oneself God. And to do that is to abase not only God, but the world and oneself, too.

From this scene on the pinnacle of the Temple, though, we can look out and see the Cross. Christ did not cast himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple. He did not leap into the abyss. He did not tempt God. But he did descend into the abyss of death, into the night of abandonment, and into the desolation of the defenseless. He ventured this leap as an act of God’s love for men.This brings to light the real meaning of Psalm 91, which has to do with the right to the ultimate and unlimited trust of which the Psalm speaks: If you follow the will of God, you know that in spite of all the terrible things that happen to you, you will never lose a final refuge. You know that the foundation of the world is love, so that even when no human being can or will help you, you may go on, trusting in the One who loves you. Yet this trust, which we cultivate on the authority of Scripture and at the invitation of the risen Lord, is something quite different from the reckless defiance of God that would make God our servant.

Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, pp. 35-38

I cannot stress adequately enough how true this is and how wonderfully rich is Benedict’s theology and interpretation of this particular temptation of Christ. In a nutshell this is why the Church still struggles. It is burdened in part by the arrogance and pride of some scholars in the academy (and theologians within the Church), who seek to place themselves over the Word of God rather than submit to it in humility and faith. Only when the latter occurs can biblical exegesis ever be faithful, nourishing, and truly edifying. Lord have mercy on us.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand. 

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (3)

But there are two sins, not of individual deed, but of spiritual condition, which cannot be forgiven; that is, as it seems to me, which cannot be excused, passed by, made little of by the tenderness even of God, inasmuch as they will allow no forgiveness to come into the soul, they will permit no good influence to go on working alongside of them; they shut God out altogether. Therefore the man guilty of these can never receive into himself the holy renewing saving influences of God’s forgiveness. God is outside of him in every sense, save that which springs from his creating relation to him, by which, thanks be to God, he yet keeps a hold of him, although against the will of the man who will not be forgiven. The one of these sins is against man; the other against God.

The former is unforgiveness to our neighbor; the shutting of him out from our mercies, from our love—so from the universe, as far as we are a portion of it—the murdering therefore of our neighbor. It may be an infinitely less evil to murder a man than to refuse to forgive him. The former may be the act of a moment of passion: the latter is the heart’s choice. It is spiritual murder, the worst, to hate, to brood over the feeling that excludes, that kills the image, the idea of the hated.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (2)

There are various kinds and degrees of wrong-doing, which need varying kinds and degrees of forgiveness. An outburst of anger in a child, for instance, scarcely wants forgiveness. The wrong in it may be so small, that the parent has only to influence the child for self-restraint, and the rousing of the will against the wrong. The father will not feel that such a fault has built up any wall between him and his child. 

But suppose that he discovered in him a habit of sly cruelty towards his younger brothers, or the animals of the house, how differently would he feel! Could his forgiveness be the same as in the former case? Would not the different evil require a different form of forgiveness? | mean, would not the forgiveness have to take the form of that kind of punishment fittest for restraining, in the hope of finally rooting out, the wickedness? Could there be true love in any other kind of forgiveness than this? A passing-by of the offense might spring from a [frail] human kindness, but never from divine love. It would not be remission. Forgiveness can never be indifference. Forgiveness is love towards the unlovely.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George MacDonald on Forgiveness (1)

I wrote about this in a different context but here the old Scottish preacher waxes much more eloquently. For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

“Every sin and blasphemy,” the Lord said, ‘will be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.” God speaks, as it were, in this manner: “I forgive you everything. Not a word more shall be said about your sins—only come out of them; come out of the darkness of your exile; come into the light of your home, of your birthright, and do evil no more. Lie no more; cheat no more; oppress no more; slander no more; envy no more; be neither greedy nor vain; love your neighbor as I love you; be my good child; trust in your Father. I am light; come to me, and you shall see things as I see them, and hate the evil thing. I will make you love the thing which now you call good and love not. I forgive all the past.”

“I thank you, Lord, for forgiving me, but I prefer staying in the darkness: forgive me that too.”

“No; that cannot be. The one thing that cannot be forgiven is the sin of choosing to be evil, of refusing deliverance, It is impossible to forgive that sin. It would be to take part in it. To side with wrong against right, with murder against life, cannot be forgiven. The thing that is past I pass, but he who goes on doing the same, annihilates this my forgiveness, makes it of no effect.”

“Let a man have committed any sin whatever, I forgive him; but to choose to go on sinning—how can I forgive that? It would be to nourish and cherish evil! It would be to let my creation go to ruin. Shall I keep you alive to do things hateful in the sight of all true men? If a man refuse to come out of his sin, he must suffer the vengeance of a love that would be no love if it left him there. Shall I allow my creature to be the thing my soul hates?”

There is no excuse for this refusal. If we were punished for every fault, there would be no end, no respite; we should have no quiet wherein to repent; but God passes by all he can. He passes by and forgets a thousand sins, yea, tens of thousands, forgiving them all—only we must begin to be good, begin to do evil no more.

—From Creation in Christ by George MacDonald

Our Human Condition

It seems so wrong that everyone under the sun suffers the same fate. Already twisted by evil, people choose their own mad course, for they have no hope. 

Proverbs 9.3, NLT

This verse from Proverbs—cited from the NLT which is a paraphrase of the original Hebrew, but reflects its intention nevertheless—summarizes the human condition perfectly. In the biblical context the human condition refers to the state of humanity estranged and alienated from God our Father, the Author of all life. With God there is perfect health and happiness, the likes of which none of us have ever seen or experienced since humans rebelled against God in paradise (Genesis 3; cp. Genesis 2.8-25). Our human condition is often characterized by sickness, rancor, strife, suffering, injustice, sorrow, disease, madness, unhinged behavior and so much more—evidence of the reality of Evil and Sin at work in humans. By the grace of God not all things are bad of course, but there is much to be desired in this world and our lives, a good and beautiful world despoiled by the power of Sin and Evil and laboring under the curse of its Creator because of human sin and rebellion. Name me an evil in this world and I will usually point you to the human condition that results from our alienation and estrangement from God our Father.

In the passage above, the old Teacher cuts right to the chase about our plight. How often we humans in our foolishness and folly seek human-made solutions to our problems, solutions that often make our plight worse than when we started. Not all man-made solutions are bad, of course, but when we lose our bearings because we reject the laws of God our Creator (thereby rejecting God) and the workings of his created order, we often make things much, much worse. Consider, for example the the whole LGBT movement, especially transgenderism. We see people, twisted by evil and unhappy with who they are and/or their lot in life, i.e., people with no hope, choose a mad course and try to alter the created order. Men can be women and vice versa we are told. We can be whoever or whatever we desire because we are the only reality. Good luck with that. Many of these poor souls seek permanent, life- and body-altering solutions to their problems in a futile effort to find meaning and happiness, all the while oblivious to the reality that only a real relationship with the one true and real God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, can produce the happiness and fulfillment they desperately seek in their futile effort to “be themselves.” It truly makes the heart sad. They really are sheep without a real Shepherd, Jesus, the only One who has the power to heal them.

To make matters worse many of these poor souls rage at those who point out the folly of their ways and madness, accusing their critics of hatred/bigotry (or worse). No one likes to be reminded of their foolishness; I get that. But if we are truly to love all people regardless of their condition we must try to warn them that their path is leading them to a life of misery in this mortal life and eternal destruction in the world to come, all the while offering them a better solution, which is a real relationship with Christ. As I have argued elsewhere, that’s not hate but love.

We can also see the madness about which the old Teacher speaks played out in the folly of the current social justice movement. To be clear, God demands true justice for all people, not just some, and Christians should be the first to advocate for reform that leads to real justice, a justice based on the laws of God and the created order. But being twisted by evil, we see folks with no hope (because they have no relationship with God) advocate for a false brand of justice that encourages evildoers to make the most of their evil and madness, all in the name of “justice.” The result? A breakdown of the rule of law and chaos, the very essence of Sin, and a very unjust world where wrong is encouraged, evildoers are rewarded, and righteousness based on God’s good laws is punished. Equally amazing is the fact that advocates for this kind of false justice refuse to acknowledge the folly of their ways, even in the face of compelling evidence. The old Teacher would surely understand.

And the above examples are not the only ones I could cite. No one is going to find true meaning and happiness in money, in toys, in power, in sexual exploits, in fame, in hedonism, in human-developed political/social/economic systems, or anything else of this world because nothing in this world is permanent, good and beautiful as things sometimes are and can be. Simply put, we were created to be wise stewards who watch over God’s good creation on God’s behalf, not to develop a relationship with the world to replace our right relationship with God our Father.

Neither are Christians immune to this evil because the old Teacher includes everyone in his observation above. We see this when Christians rail against the brave new world being imposed on us by the woke. I am not talking about speaking the truth in love and naming evil and wrong for what they are and condemning such. I am talking about Christian and/or conservative commentators who use the weapons being aimed at them by their enemies: vitriol, rancor, half-truths, lies, snark, anger, tit-for-tat, and the rest.

But the war against Evil is not won by using the weapons of the Evil One and his minions. No, there is a better way as seen in this example from the Acts of the Apostles.

23 As soon as they were freed, Peter and John returned to the other believers and told them what the leading priests and elders had said. 24 When they heard the report, all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God: “O Sovereign Lord, Creator of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— 25 you spoke long ago by the Holy Spirit through our ancestor David, your servant, saying,

‘Why were the nations so angry?
    Why did they waste their time with futile plans?
26 The kings of the earth prepared for battle;
    the rulers gathered together
against the Lord
    and against his Messiah.’

27 “In fact, this has happened here in this very city! For Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel were all united against Jesus, your holy servant, whom you anointed. 28 But everything they did was determined beforehand according to your will. 29 And now, O Lord, hear their threats, and give us, your servants, great boldness in preaching your word. 30 Stretch out your hand with healing power; may miraculous signs and wonders be done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”

31 After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4.23-31

The context for this scene is clear. The nascent Christian faith and Christ’s followers were under attack by a variety of enemies, enemies bent on destroying those who followed Christ and their saving message. What did the early Church do in response? Did they resort to name-calling? Did the cower in fear? Did they let their enemies silence them? Did they lose their faith? Did they resort to name-calling and ad hominem like their opponents? No, they gathered together in prayer and they prayed for BOLDNESS to preach the gospel faithfully! They knew they had the best solution around to heal the world’s sin-sickness! They also prayed for God’s power to accompany their proclamation to show an unbelieving world that the new Christian faith and teaching were grounded in a new reality, the reality of God’s in-breaking kingdom brought about by the Death and Resurrection of Christ. They ignored their enemies’ threats, focusing instead on proclaiming Christ and living out their faith in him in the power of God the Holy Spirit!

Where is that same prayer and boldness today from Christ’s people? I can’t speak for anyone else but I am not seeing much of it. Too often we have let ourselves be cow-towed by our enemies and I suspect this has happened in part because many Christians today really don’t believe in the power and efficacy of Christ’s Death and Resurrection the way his first followers did, a story for a different day and post.

Here then is the solution to problems involved with our human condition. We must steep ourselves in Scripture and relearn our story and take it to heart, unbelievable as it can seem at times. We must really think and believe that we have the best story and game around! We must believe that God really is in charge and loves the world and us so much that he gave his only Son Jesus Christ to heal our sin-sickness! Christ really did die for us sinners out of God’s love for us and to satisfy God’s righteous anger against human sin and the evil it produces. God really did raise Christ from the dead to usher in the beginning of God’s new world, the new heavens and earth, a world where the human condition is restored to its original intended goodness, health, and vitality. This is the future for anyone who puts their hope and trust in God through Christ and who rejects merely human solutions for our problems. We are to give our lives to God in prayer and ask the Father to intervene on our behalf for the healing of the nations, us included. And we are to avail ourselves to the power of God working in everything through the Holy Spirit to bring to fruition the healing and redemption of God’s world and its creatures, especially us image-bearers.

We can do none of the above if we don’t first know our own Story and are convinced that it is Real and True. Even then, as the old Teacher points out elsewhere (see, e.g., Ecclesiastes 9.1-2), we are not immune from our own hurt and failures and the vicissitudes of life. What our faith and knowledge of the power of our Story do give us is a hope and a future, which in turn gives us confidence to live in the love and power of God to work his will in and through our lives to accomplish his good purposes, and we must do all this together as God’s people. As Christ reminds us, he came to bring the sword, i.e., his Word and Presence will always cause division and conflict in the world because of the reality of Evil and evil-doers who hate him and his Father (see, e.g., Matthew 10.32-42), and so we will always have enemies because we share in our Lord’s life and death. But we are also promised that we will have God’s power and grace which are more than sufficient for the battle, which has already been won for us, even if it costs us our mortal life. Let those who believe this Promise take up the fight with courage, humility, and hope, and fight the good fight.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

Reading Ecclesiastes (and Life) Through the Lens of the Resurrection

13 I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. 14 I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

15 What is wrong cannot be made right.
    What is missing cannot be recovered.

Ecclesiastes 1.13-15 NLT

I was reading from the book of Ecclesiastes this morning and ran across the verses above. Ecclesiastes is a book that cuts to the chase about this mortal life—nothing new under the sun, life is meaningless because it is so fleeting, etc. There is no sentimentality to be found in it, and for our good. If you’ve not read it, do so sometime. It will give you much food for thought to chew on.

At any rate, when I came to verse 15 above I realized just how massively important is Christ’s Resurrection for us. Why? Because without it, life can really be dark and depressing. As the old Teacher in Ecclesiastes reminds us starkly, the present created order is under God’s curse, a curse brought on by human sin and rebellion. God’s cursed created order causes all kinds of hardship, sickness, madness, alienation, suffering, injustice, disease, and ultimately death. The curse is the reason life is fleeting and meaningless. Indeed, what is wrong cannot be made right. What is missing cannot be recovered. For example, think about the criminal justice system. Even when justice is served, it will not restore the victim and his family. The murdered are still murdered. Their families still grieve. Or take the discussion about reparations for 19th century slavery in this country. Even if there was merit behind the argument of reparations, it will not undo the evils of the past or change for better the lives of those slaves who directly suffered under that massive and wicked injustice. We can only influence the people and events of our day, not the past or the future. The only time we have is now to make things right and the only people affected are those who live right now. No amount of money can right that wrong because money is not the solution to real living. It is part of the inherent incompleteness of our system of justice system that labors under a cursed created order. Of course we must pursue justice for victims of crime and injustice; but we also must realize perfect justice is beyond our reach in this mortal life, try as we may to achieve it. We are only mortals after all.

Think too about things and people missing, about all the folks who have died, some unjustly and seemingly before their time, or about those robbed of their memory and humanity by Alzheimer’s. They are gone forever in this mortal life because nothing in this life is permanent, people included. Think about the injustice and wickedness of cancer, even if a person is fully cured. What happens eventually? We all die as the Teacher in Ecclesiastes observes. And we all know dead people don’t come back to life. Death is permanent. Nothing can change that. It’s part of God’s cursed created order. Seen and contemplated from this perspective, a perspective without God and his Christ, life can indeed look pretty bleak, pretty grim, pretty meaningless and futile.

Enter Christ’s saving Death and Resurrection. They are God’s perfect solution to reversing the curse that has plagued the created order and humans since the Fall. If the Resurrection and the New Creation it announces are true, then everything changes. Life is no longer meaningless because we have a real hope and future. For example, God’s perfect justice is achieved in God’s new world, the new heavens and earth (see, e.g., Isaiah 25.6-9; Revelation 21.1-8ff). Murder victims are restored to new life and given a new body that is impervious to death and illness and murder. Victims of slavery are set free to operate as equals in God’s new world. Families who have put their hope in Christ are reunited, their mourning and tears and the pain of permanent separation wiped away for good, forever to live in God’s direct Presence, a Presence that guarantees perfect happiness, perfect wholeness, perfect health, and God’s incomprehensible peace that is only partially available to us in this mortal life. Evildoers and the evil they practice will be excluded from God’s new world. Death, the final enemy, will be abolished forever. Sorrow and sadness and loneliness and madness and alienation will likewise be swept away. The beauty of God’s new created order, an order that will never again be subject to God’s curse because human sin and evil are forever destroyed, will be more beautiful than we can ever imagine. In short, Resurrection and God’s new world it inaugurates are the perfect and only real solution to the meaninglessness, fleetingness, pain, sorrow, and futility of this mortal life. And Resurrection and God’s new world are only made possible because of the saving Death of Jesus Christ on the cross to atone for our sins. Without it, none of us have hope because none of us has a future beyond our death.

This is why Saint Paul could tell the church at Corinth to be strong and immovable as they worked tirelessly for the Lord Jesus (1 Corinthians 15.58). Sure, our efforts may seem futile. It may look like nothing is being accomplished or nothing is happening as we labor in various ways for the Christ we love. Who among us doesn’t grow weary at times, even the most faithful? Don’t give up, says Saint Paul! Don’t lose hope! Why? Because nothing we do for the Lord is ever useless (or in vain or meaningless)! Why is that? Because as Saint Paul has just finished explaining to them and us in 1 Corinthians 15, Christ’s Resurrection guarantees we Christians have a real hope and future, unlike the world and those who refuse to believe in Christ and to accept God’s perfect gift to us. We have the hope and future of the resurrection of the body, a body equipped and powered by God’s Holy Spirit to live in God’s perfect new world. And what we do here and now for the love of Christ helps prepare us to live in that new world when it comes in full! That’s why it is critical for Christians to have a robust theology about Christ’s Resurrection and all that flows from it. The NT writers certainly did and they went on to change their world for the better! That same hope and future are available to us today.

If this doesn’t give you hope and encouragement, I know of nothing that can or will and you are most to be pitied. Take the time, therefore, to consider these things, these promises, what you hope for and what your future looks like. Read about the resurrection promises in 1 Corinthians 15 and elsewhere. Consider the breathtaking vision of God’s new world, a world only made possible by the grace of God the Father and the saving Death of his Son, Jesus Christ, presented in Revelation 20-22. Pay attention to the fact that the new world does not become a reality until God and his Christ have defeated the reality of Evil and all its sources. Having a resurrection hope and faith will not only help you read tough books in the Bible like Ecclesiastes with real hope, it will also help you live your life with joy and hope and courage because you know God is faithful and trustworthy, and God’s promises are always true, no matter what the outward circumstances may look like. Embrace the hope and promise of the resurrection of the body and God’s new world. Give your life to Christ who alone has the power to make your hope a reality.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

George Weigel (First Things): Looking for the Lord Jesus in Lisbon

Love Weigel. Let the Church say, “Amen!” For more background, read here.

Pondering this latest example of Catholicism dumbed down to the Religion of Nice, I remembered a radically different approach to explaining the relationship of the Lord Jesus to the yearnings of young hearts. It was the approach taken by Pope John Paul II at Tor Vergata in Rome, during the night vigil before the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2000. There, the pope put Christ at the center of an immense gathering of Catholic young adults with these memorable words: 

It is Jesus you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be ground down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal.

Such robust Christocentrism is not, I submit, “proselytism.” It is a Christian witness to Christian truth. It’s an affirmation that combines conviction with compassion. It’s an explication of the basic confession of Christian faith: Kýrios I?soûs, “Jesus is Lord.” And that Christocentrism is what has inspired millions of the young Catholics who have attended World Youth Days since 1984 to be the missionary disciples they were baptized to be.

As for this tiresome psychobabble about walking together into the future, Bishop Aguiar and others who indulge it might reconsider St. Luke’s beautifully crafted story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus on Easter Sunday afternoon (Luke 24:13–35). They were walking together. But they were walking in the wrong direction until they encountered the Risen One. Then they started walking together again, but now in the right direction: toward a Jerusalem transformed by the Resurrection, from which they and the others who had met the Lord Jesus would be sent throughout the world to invite others to “the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22).

That is the “walking together” that World Youth Days should inspire: a walking together that leads to Christ and to mission.

Read it all.

July 2023: Wisdom from the Second Vatican Council

Good words for all Christians.

The Sacred Scriptures contain
the Word of God
and, since they are inspired,
really are the Word of God…

This sacred Synod urges all the Christian faithful
to learn by frequent reading of the divine Scriptures
the “excelling knowledge of Jesus Christ.”
“For ignorance of the Scriptures
is ignorance of Christ.”

Therefore, they should gladly put themselves
in touch with the sacred text itself…

And let them remember that prayer should accompany
the reading of Sacred Scripture,
so that God and man may talk together;
for “we speak to him when we pray;
we hear from him when we read the divine saying.”

From Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation by the Second Vatican Council

The Incoherence of the Theology of Inclusion

I was talking with some folks recently about the painful split looming for their congregation over the issue of “inclusion,” i.e., whether to welcome and accept gays or not. I could hear the hurt in their voice and feel their pain as they described how it was going to tear apart their beloved congregation, not to mention themselves. I get it. They truly love the Lord and are trying to obey his command for us to love one another. I’ve also sadly been there and done that with the episcopal wars about 20 years ago and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. I have great compassion for them as well as sadness because this is not going to turn out well for them or anyone else; it will rip their parish family apart, and all for a false agenda and lousy theology. I also have great anger for those who are trying to foist that false and incoherent theology and agenda on our churches, all in the name of “inclusion.” But what does it mean to be inclusive? The way the issue is framed is that inclusive folks are loving and accept folks as they are (in this context homosexuals—see the way the issue was framed above) while those who are not inclusive are haters, bigots, judgmental, and self-righteous. But that is utter nonsense and those who argue this way are either ignorant of the story contained in Scripture and/or deliberately deceptive in their teaching.

How can I say this? After all, aren’t we all sinners in desperate need of Christ’s healing love and forgiveness? Of course we are! None are without sin. None have any hope without the saving Death and Resurrection of Christ, so shouldn’t all Christians be “inclusive”?

But that is not what the inclusive crowd is talking about. Instead, an incoherent theology is being propagated that is actually hateful toward those these folks profess to care about. God the Father accepts us all for who we are and how we come to him, warts, sins, ugliness and all. But Christ did not die so that we can keep on sinning. His Death is not a get out of jail free card that allows us to live in open and ongoing rebellion against God’s good will and purposes for his creatures, especially his human image-bearing creatures, and his created order. Christ died to set us free from our slavery to Sin, a slavery that must lead to our death without God’s gracious intervention in and through Christ. Freeing us from our slavery to Sin’s power is the truly loving thing to do! So being inclusive should never, ever be about accepting a lifestyle or belief that will lead to death and eternal destruction. There is nothing loving about that; just the opposite in fact. Yet that is what we are being asked to do in the name of “inclusion”. It’s all about elevating individual identity to idol status and the acceptance of that identity and the lifestyle it usually produces, a lifestyle that is antithetical to the gold standard of God’s created order (one man, one woman in a lifetime monogamous relationship, see Gen 1.26-31, 2.18-25). We are being asked to bless what God consistently condemns and that cannot and will not stand. There is no way this is the “loving” thing to do. What Christian who takes his or her faith seriously would accept and bless an unrepentant adulterer or an unrepentant murderer or child molester or thief? Where is the sanity or goodness of embracing those lifestyles/behaviors in the name of inclusion and tolerance? Why then would we be willing to give a free pass to a lifestyle and behaviors Scripture clearly condemns in the name of inclusion? How is that a loving thing to do?

No. If we love the person we would encourage that person to abandon any wicked lifestyle and give his/her life instead to Christ, to start living his/her life in a way that is pleasing to God and consistent with God’s will. Instead of embracing a false identity in sexuality or whatever else, we would encourage that person to find his/her identity in Christ because only Christ can truly heal us and allow us to reject our sinful nature and the lifestyle it produces. We would do this all very gently, humbly, and with great compassion, tenderness, and reticence because saying hard but true things to those we love is never an easy thing to do, despite being the right thing to do. We wouldn’t bless adulterers because they were “built that way” or buy the argument that being an adulterer is the only way they can find true happiness so why would we make an exception in this case, especially when God does not bless homosexual behavior? Instead, if we loved them we would call them to repentance, just as Christ and his Father do, just as we try to do for ourselves. Denying self, taking up one’s cross, and following Christ does not produce a self-indulgent or self-centered or disordered lifestyle. There is no coherent orthodox theology that would espouse this, especially if we believe that Scripture and Christ represent the authoritative word of God the Father.

It is also critically important in this discussion to consider these things from a practical perspective. What do I mean by that? I mean that the issue of a person’s sexuality just doesn’t come up very often if ever in the daily life of a parish family. I was a parish priest for 15 years and never once did I have to admonish a parishioner for his or her sexual preference or identity (unfortunately I had to do my share of admonishing, but not for things like this). Why? Because we called all people to repentance and confession on a regular basis and trusted they would take their sins to God with a truly penitent heart. We didn’t target one group of people and/or elevate one set of sins over others. All sin is death-dealing and destructive and so we encouraged people to lay their sins at the foot of the cross through confession and repentance and let the Lord heal them in his good time/ways. We also encouraged our parish family to encourage and exhort each other to holy living, clergy included. Now had someone asked me to bless a sin or a sinful lifestyle or elevate an identity to idol status in the name of inclusion so that it became a public scandal that had the potential to destroy our parish family, I would have had to address the issue with that person in the manner I just discussed above, but privately. I know of no church that asks newcomers about their sexual preferences/lifestyles as soon as they walk through the door the first time, so this argument is based more on theory than the reality of actual parish life. The fact is, many who stay away from church do so because they don’t want to have to come to terms with their sin or they don’t believe there will be any consequences for living a life of rebellion against God. There’s more to it than that, but not less.

In light of what I have just said, does all this mean I advocate that we hate people and reject them? Certainly not! God forbid! A truly inclusive church invites all comers, no matter how bad they are, to come and die to Christ, to subject themselves and their lifestyles to his lordship so that he can begin to heal them of their sin-sickness that will allow them to find real life, real joy, real peace. We all are in the same boat when it comes to this and we all desperately need the help and love and power of Christ and him alone if we are to have a hope and a future. This is the kind of inclusion that is truly life-giving and affirming. Blessing false identities and the death-dealing lifestyles they typically produce is not the loving or coherent thing for Christians who profess to be orthodox to do.

By all means, love folks and take them as you find them. Be and do for them the way you want God and others to be and do for you. Welcome them and help them become part of your parish family. Just don’t be content to leave them where they are, any more than you should be content to wallow in your own sin-sickness. Instead, encourage one and all to develop their identity in Christ and ask them to encourage you likewise, because Christ is the only way to life, now and in the world to come. Bid them, in other words, to come and die to Christ along with you so you all can find real life. That is the only loving and inclusive thing to do.

For those with ears to hear, listen and understand.

Chose Love

I was reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans this morning. In chapter 9 he deals with the issue of why so many Israelites had rejected Jesus as their Messiah, especially if they were God’s chosen people (which they are). That conversation must wait for a different day. What caught my immediate attention was this. In his opening thoughts, Saint Paul speaks of his own deep personal pain over their rejection of Jesus saying that, “I would be willing to be forever cursed—cut off from Christ! [emphasis mine]—if that would save them” (Romans 9.3).

Did you catch that? Saint Paul equates being cursed with being cut off from Christ! In other words, if we do not have a relationship with Christ we are looking at eventual eternal destruction. Christ is the only way to God the Father, our only Source of life, because only Christ’s atoning death makes reconciliation with God the Father possible and cleanses us sufficiently to live in God’s direct Presence as the Christian hope contained in the NT promises. Without Christ, we are all without hope and a future. How do I know this to be true? Because Jesus Christ is resurrected from the dead, an event with solid historical evidence and the evidence of the shared experience of hundreds of millions of lives of Christians over time and across cultures.

This thinking and theology does not play well with modern audiences, at least in the west, which is unfortunate for obvious reasons. Instead, we are often told to “choose love, not hate.” I couldn’t agree more. What I disagree with, however, is the definition of “love” that most have in mind when they say this. But if you are in agreement with what Saint Paul says above, then you are on the right track.

True love always seeks the best for the beloved. Saint Paul loves his fellow Israelites so much, i.e., wants the best for them, that he is willing to be cut off from Christ—willing to submit to eternal destruction—if he could get some of them to believe that Christ is the only way to God’s promised new world as explained above. Being cut off from Christ, whether we fall away from him or are too proud and arrogant (and foolish) to believe in him in the first place, results in Death and eternal destruction, in being cut off from the Presence of the living God who is our only Source of Life forever.

How is advocating for beliefs/lifestyles that magnify our brokenness and rebellion that result in our alienation from God our Father and our eternal destruction in anyone’s best interest?

Of course having a real relationship with Christ means that we must have the willingness and humility to repent of (turn away from) following our own path to happiness because such a human-devised path doesn’t exist and never has. The only path to true happiness and thriving in God’s created order is following the path that our Creator has set out for us because only our Creator can really know what is best for us that allows us to thrive; he is our Creator after all. This is not easy for humans because we don’t want to be the creature. We want to be the Creator, but we lack God’s wisdom, (fore)knowledge, and power (for starters). Thriving in this mortal life begins with following the 10 Words (Commandments—Exodus 20) and ends with imitating Christ, the living embodiment of God our Father and his 10 Words.

If you really want to thrive—and let us be very clear, God created us to thrive and wants us to thrive as evidenced by the creation narratives before the Fall (Genesis 1-3) and elsewhere in the Scriptural narrative, not to mention the lived experience of hundreds of millions of humans over time and across cultures—then choose Christ. It is the only way to succeed. Period. End of story. But be warned: following Christ is not easy or for the faint of heart because we are all profoundly broken and sin-sick creatures. Yet what worthwhile endeavor in life is ever easy? And what is more worthwhile than choosing to follow Christ who is our path to thriving in this mortal life and enjoying God’s promised new heavens and earth forever?

So by all means, choose love and not hate. But be careful what kind of things and people you choose to love and hate. There is only one Way to thrive and to enjoy eternal life. Those who advocate for the unjust, the wicked, the perverse, the disordered, or the chaotic loves that swirl in and around us and which lead to our mortal death and eternal destruction have never offered any kind of explanation as to how this is a “loving” thing to do and how their beloved will thrive. Please don’t be the fool who rejects Christ and is cut off from him. Choose love. Choose Christ. Choose to live and thrive, even in a dark and desperate world or in the chaos of your own life.

For those of you who have ears to hear, listen and understand.