Pentecost Sunday

Today is Pentecost Sunday, commonly considered the birthdate of the church. In the pentecostal church I grew up in, it was another excuse to preach about tongues and invalid baptism, and the occasional attendance drive.

That church was protestant of the Protestants with no liturgical thread–anything of the sort was anathema. After a while, they quit noticing the date entirely. I think the only days they acknowledge are Christmas and Easter, to say nothing of Ascension Thursday, or Epiphany.

Living without the liturgical year is like being adrift. Especially in this rapidly moving society, we bounced between the two poles of Christmas and Easter, church is just something jammed into our weekly schedule however many times, with us never pausing to understand how the church is rooted in the physical present. It’s all in our heads, and never in our hands, our gestures. What makes this Sunday any different from the last one, or the next one?

Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday, my self-professed favorite. Today is the last day of Mystagogia, and occasionally the first day of Inquiry (it was when I converted). Last Sunday was the moveable feast of Ascension Thursday. Each of these is fundamentally important, and the liturgical year was created for us, and for the countless generations before we all had calendars on our cellphones, to teach us.

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I was reading this piece, and taken in conjunction with this one, I wonder at the comments on the first one.

Scandal isn’t really seen as such a bad thing any more. We have the daily celebrity/politician/royalty scandals, which take up the front pages of magazines and only provide us with entertainment. They give the nightly talk shows something to laugh about, and are generally dismissed as irrelevant and pointless.

Scandal, however, is something the Catechism warns about:

Respect for the souls of others: scandal

2284 Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

2285 Scandal takes on a particular gravity by reason of the authority of those who cause it or the weakness of those who are scandalized. It prompted our Lord to utter this curse: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Scandal is grave when given by those who by nature or office are obliged to teach and educate others. Jesus reproaches the scribes and Pharisees on this account: he likens them to wolves in sheep’s clothing.

2286 Scandal can be provoked by laws or institutions, by fashion or opinion.

Therefore, they are guilty of scandal who establish laws or social structures leading to the decline of morals and the corruption of religious practice, or to “social conditions that, intentionally or not, make Christian conduct and obedience to the Commandments difficult and practically impossible.” This is also true of business leaders who make rules encouraging fraud, teachers who provoke their children to anger, or manipulators of public opinion who turn it away from moral values.

2287 Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that it leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and responsible for the evil that he has directly or indirectly encouraged. “Temptations to sin are sure to come; but woe to him by whom they come!”

Cohabiting couples are not participating in grave sin because we can psychically know they’re having extramarital sex: it isn’t our place to judge that, for number one. But even if they are living as brother and sister, given the state of society today, people will assume they are having sex. And if the couple is Catholic, there it is: scandal.

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Wandering Thoughts and the Trinity

I went to the Easter Vigil last night, as is my custom. I love that service, even if the construction of a Spanish mission nearby resulted in Anglos reading the (truncated) readings in Spanish. I love it because I can see people being received into the Church, and I am reminded of my own reception.

I love watching the baptisms. The priest says “I baptise you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The confirmations: “Be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit”. It’s beautiful and so completely different from the way I grew up.

I grew up in the conservative wing of the UPCI, which has since splintered off into the WWPF. Their view of salvation is nothing like the Church’s, based on a heretical Christology and the Pentecostal fascination with tongues.

Their entire theology is based upon the KJV’s Acts 2:38, rendered in the NAB as “Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.’” The only way to salvation was to be baptized in the name of Jesus specifically, followed or preceded with the infusion of the “Holy Ghost”, as it is called in the KJV, and further twisted by the modalism of the Oneness theology.

In order to be saved, you have to do all that and die in a state of sinlessness. I won’t say “state of grace”, as that sort of theology is beyond the moue of a system that claims one modalistic person and simultaneous patripassionism. You have to die having repented of all your sins, of which there are a staggering many, and which vary depending on which church you attend. There were horror stories of people who died before they could get back to a church to repent of X sin of the day, usually drinking or sometimes listening to secular music. Hell was a very real possibility for everyone. Anyone who wasn’t in the tiny percentage that baptized via full immersion and the Jesus-name formula was definitely going.

Not only did you have to be baptized and never sin, you had to demonstrate that you really were saved by speaking “with the gift of the Holy Ghost”, ie, in tongues.

I still wince when I hear Catholics speak of mortal sins and hell. Not that I disbelieve the faith; every day I become more convinced and I thank the Holy Spirit for that grace. It is just very difficult to believe in something like that when you’ve had to rebuild your entire cosmology from scratch. When I finally went to confession recently I left crying, not sure how to reconcile his benediction with the bone-deep conviction that I had failed.

Still, like I said, it’s a daily thing. I take the sacraments, I continue to educate myself. Sometimes it’s all I can do to get myself to mass, even more to stay there past the Creed or Our Father. But every day the third person of the Trinity gives me strength, and I move closer to Christ.

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The Gift of Unbelief

I listen to a lot of apologetics. I enjoy it, and it has strengthened my faith enormously. However, when it comes to atheism, agnosticism, or any related materialism, much of the discussion falls short.

It is true that much of the “fad atheists” fall into strict categories with regard to pride, an emphasis on scientific proof, and the derision of any sort of faith as infantile, this does not apply to all or even most of them.

I was an atheist from a young age. I had a very limited ability to believe beyond the natural world and the gnosticism of modern Evangelical Pentecostalism was fundamentally abominable to me. The physicality of Catholicism and its acknowledgment of us as physical beings is a primary attraction for me. Being an atheist wasn’t about “how stupid my parents were” when I was nine years old. For me, it was simply reality. I knew that tongues and the emotional experience of their church was simple human fabrication and not the “Holy Ghost”. [I use quotes here which I will discuss in another post.]

Dawkins and his ilk amuse me, frankly. His books on science are brilliant testimony to the beauty of our world and he has some facility for breaking down traditional arguments for God. Dismantling outmoded proofs which are riddled with flaws is always a good thing, even if the conclusions drawn are incorrect. Just because I can deconstruct a proof about the sky being blue as holding a logical error, does not mean that the sky is not blue. We simply need a better test.

Or, better yet, realize that such a test is irrelevant. God exists, and he will show himself to us as he wills. He will not be revealed with simple philosophical games that reduce him to a mere being. We as Catholics need to understand that our Triune God is God, that He will not be batted about by humans intent on proving themselves right.

God gave me unbelief to draw me to him. If I had not been searching, I could never have found him, and would still be wandering in the desert without manna. If I had been content in the faith of my parents and accepted it without question, I would not have found the Church.

Doubting Thomas is often derided because he did not believe that Jesus was risen because the other apostles told him that it was so. Why did he not have faith, why did he rely on his senses in order to believe? But now that he believed, what if someone else came to him and relayed having seen another risen, and he accepted that based on their word? He would be in error because he chose to believe the wrong person. God uses our human failings, our need for proof, to bring us closer to him and to guard us against accepting things that are not true.

Instead of constantly railing against atheists and debating against them, we need to pray for them. Conversion is God’s work, and believing that we can have any significant part in that beyond our prayers and Christian example is pride, and therefore sin.

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The Protestantization of Catholicism

Something that upsets me deeply is when Catholics defend traditionally Catholic doctrine using Evangelical or Fundamentalist theology. Catholics and Protestants may agree on many things, or even most things, but the heart of most of the Church’s social teachings is not the same.

Protestant teaching on things like homosexuality or contraception or abortion are completely divorced from the Church’s culture of life. The catechism has a very compassionate stance on queer people that is fully in line with the rest of its teachings. Catholics cannot believe in gay marriage, but a Protestant that denies the Sacrament is being a hypocrite when he derides it.

Refusing artificial contraception is a beautiful statement of love within the Sacrament. A marriage that is always open to life is something to be respected, and I pray that I will one day have a spouse with which I can fully practice my faith. This openness to life is the foundation of the culture of life and is, I believe, the root of where Protestants go wrong with everything else. Without this one thing to hold it in place, Protestant moral theology is inconsistent at best and chaotic and hypocritical at worst.

Someone who believes in the death penalty has no business arguing against abortion: if one believes that a person has the right to end the life of another, when does it matter when he exercises that right? Perhaps it is true that there are irreparably evil people in the world, but we are not the arbiter of these things.

Humans do not have the right to decide when a life should begin, or when it should end. That is God’s territory. He gives the gift when he pleases, and takes each soul at its own time. If we are ever able as a people to influence our society toward a culture of life, we have to remember the reasons for it, and not spout answers which seem convenient but are, at their heart, flawed.

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Catholicism as a communal religion

Last night I went to the fourth midnight mass of the nativity that I have been to since my baptism at Easter of 07. I went by myself, as I always do, and I got to thinking.

I don’t like going to mass by myself. Christmas is always worse, because my family is *right there* and they aren’t going to their own service like they do on Sundays and my mother always shudders when I ask if anyone wants to go with me and my brothers can’t be arsed.

Growing up, I went every Sunday (and Tuesday, and Thursday, etc) to church with my family as a group. And even though my dad was on the piano, and my brother in class, and my mom in the chorale or choir, depending on which of the four services it was, we were still there together, even if we didn’t sit next to one another much after I turned twelve and was kicked up to “youth seating.”

I was listening to a talk given about common apologetics, and when infant baptism came up, the speaker said something very interesting. In the early church, entire households were baptized together. This was linked to the old testament, where religion was not on an individual basis, but rather on a communal and familial level. Covenant families.

Catholicism is aimed at families. As a single young person who entered the faith as an adult, I feel this particularly strongly. For those of us who are “in between” youth formation events and married or vocational life, it is very lonely.

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