quod pro nobis traditum est

Friday, April 24, 2009

St. Mark, Evangelist

(mosaic at St. Mark's Basilica in Venice)

The Evangelist was not one of the Apostles but is a disciple of theirs and most closely associated with St. Peter. The reason given that the lion is the animal chosen from Ezekiel to depict St. Mark is that he begins his Gospel by showing John the Baptist as the "voice of one crying in the wilderness."

St. Mark is tied by some traditions to Alexandria and he may have been the first bishop and pope there. The founding of the church in Alexandria is the founding of Christianity in Africa. Coptic Christians especially recognize St. Mark for his role in Christianity there. April 25 is the anniversary of his martyrdom.

Mark succinctly introduces his Gospel with these words,
"The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God."
(initium evangelii Iesu Christi Filii Dei.)

Faith and Reason: Thoughts on a Friday

The encyclical, Fides et Ratio, of Pope John Paul II is one of those non-"Lutheran" documents that someday I will sit down and read. The topic is always timely and pertinent to tensions within and outside of the Church. There is pressure on those who read about theological topics, themes and issues to put aside such things and focus instead on "higher" cultural and secular interests. For the minority, theology and philosophy, always connected to and guided by Scripture help the busy soul keep sight of bigger questions and realities although they are also more basic and foundational. There is direct connection to the practical world but this is lost when one becomes so caught up in the practical world that one can no longer connect one's thoughts or actions to a greater whole. Such is the struggle in our times. The rapid-paced world, on the one hand (in competition for power), and, on the other hand, simple and basic meaning with occasional mystery.

Such an environment, as we find ourselves in the world today, understandably raises questions of the relationship between faith and reason and therefore any tensions, real and imagined, between the two. Outside of the Church secular beliefs that are indifferent to or even outwardly antagonistic to matters of faith are ever present to pose their questions and challenges. Non-religious "religions" spring up on a continual basis in order to offer alternatives to the faith. Within the Church faith and reason interact more intensely in questions of theology, philosophy and practice resulting in a variety of positions, based on hard evidence and/or perception. Even Church history reflects movement either toward or away from faith or reason. Each era is recognized for its contributions as well as its faults. Questions of Church practice, whether intentionally or not, always raise the bigger question of the relationship between faith and reason (pietism and rationalism being the extremes). Which pastor/priest and congregation has not had a taste of this tension?

In general, one can see, for example, that the church's liturgy has more to do with prayer and sacramental realities, that is, the faith, than with passing on information to people or simply satisfying man's reason. Likewise, the study of theology and/or philosophy, makes use of reason and includes the transmission of information but, in a way that seeks to make a connection between that which reason may understand and explain while, at the same time, adressing metaphysical questions, i.e., questions of the faith. Faith and reason go together, there is no doubt. Dangers arise when they are used one against the other. Here, as in the case of "Word and Sacrament," the word "and" plays a key role.

Returning to an earlier statement, "There is pressure on those who read about theological topics, themes and issues to put aside such things and focus instead on 'higher' cultural and secular interests," one sees in this statement itself a reflection of the tension between faith and reason. It may be argued reasonably that cultural and secular questions do not, in and of themselves, always undermine or negate the faith. Likewise, it is reasonable to conclude that reading about theological topics, themes and issues does not equate with faith or always serve to upbuild the faith. For the Christian, both faith and reason are divine gifts and best understood in the light of divine revelation.

The Bible is understood together with the Church and the liturgy is understood together with the Gospel, sacraments and prayer. Reason admits the possibility of faith with mysteries and faith seeks understanding.

My problem is I like to read such things . . .

Thursday, April 23, 2009

St. George

Rather than offer sacrifice to the pagan gods as demanded by the Emperor Diocletian, St. George (275/285 - 303/4) claimed his allegiance to and worship of Jesus Christ and was martyred by beheading on this day in 303 or 304. Witness of his suffering and death led to the conversion of Empress Alexandra and Athanasius, a pagan priest, both of whom were also martyred.

"Thou hast protected me, O God, from the assembly of the malignant, alleluia:
from the multitude of the workers of iniquity, alleluia, alleluia." (Introit, Psalm 64)

Monday, April 13, 2009

Feast of the Resurrection

"And then there followed many proofs, whereon the authority of the Faith to be preached through the whole world might be based. And although the rolling away of the stone, the empty tomb, the arrangement of the linen cloths, and the angels who narrated the whole deed by themselves fully built up the truth of the Lord's Resurrection, yet did He often appear plainly to the eyes both of the women and of the Apostles not only talking with them, but also remaining and eating with them, and allowing Himself to be handled by the eager and curious hands of those whom doubt assailed. For to this end He entered when the doors were closed upon the disciples, and gave them the Holy Spirit by breathing on them, and after giving them the light of understanding opened the secrets of the Holy Scriptures, and again Himself showed them the wound in the side, the prints of the nails, and all the marks of His most recent Passion, whereby it might be acknowledged that in Him the properties of the Divine and Human Nature remained undivided, and we might in such sort know that the Word was not what the flesh is, as to confess God's only Son to be both Word and Flesh."

- Leo the Great (Sermon 71 delivered on Easter Vigil, source:

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday

The world will go on as if Jesus’ death does not matter . . . There is at the same time an avoidance of death and a removal of oneself from the sacredness of life so that death becomes an escape. This is a culture of death, a running away from life.

Jesus did not run away from death or avoid it but rather picked up His cross and suffered and died at the hands of sinful men. His death was not dictated by an escape from or an opposition to life.

. . . Scripture challenges us to meditate on these mysteries for in these mysteries we come to what the Evangelist calls "the hour of [Jesus’] glory.”

. . . God answers our unbelief by drawing all men to Himself through His Son who is lifted up on the tree.

. . . “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”

The world goes on as if Jesus’ death on the cross does not matter. Yet in His Cross and Passion and Death, Jesus has redeemed the world . . .

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Holy Triduum

Holy Thursday is a hidden treasure. Jesus loves the world to the end in His new covenant, the Lord's Supper.

Good Friday - NoonDay Service and evening Mass

Holy Saturday - Paschal Vigil

Easter Sunday - Mass in the morning

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Purgatory on Earth

In the tradition I know this concept is not acceptable. Probably the key argument against purgatory has to do with questions of canon, that being that such a concept is not found in what is generally accepted as "Scripture." (The canon of Scripture is different within the different Christian traditions.)

Purgatory had a role to play in the Reformation. The sale of indulgences was what broke the camel's back for Luther and his theses spelled that out in Latin for the Church to ponder. The buying and selling of the forgiveness of sins was unacceptable, the practice being held up in relation to the understanding of Scripture.

Apart from these issues, what of purgatory itself? This is a question of the afterlife so it is not one easily defined. Nor is the thing in itself something that merits raising protest. Although questioned, especially these days, Heaven and Hell are commonly accepted among Christians. These are also afterlife questions. There is attestation throughout Scripture, no matter which canon.

From an earthly perspective, our experience bears out the popular notions of "hell on earth" or "heaven on earth," the former used more often, even among the irreligious. "Hell on earth" may be used to describe anything from war to devastating disease, unspeakable crime to widespread hunger. "Heaven on earth" may be a phrase used by the irreligious to describe anything that is considered good in the eyes of the beholder. "Heaven on earth" is most often understood within the wider Christian Tradition to describe those unseen realities that are related to the liturgy of the Church (be it Eastern or Western).

Heaven and Hell are different ends of the spectrum, whether speaking spiritually, experientially or theologically. Purgatory is somewhere in between, but in the direction of Heaven. Webster online defines purgatory as "an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification." If purgatory is a state after death, I would understand it as a divine work as it has to do with purification and is in the direction of heaven. Again, whether or not there is purgatory after death is not the focus of this post. I do ponder here the idea of a "purgatory on earth," apart from either the concepts of heaven and hell on earth and yet connected to both.

Rather than being caught in a constant high ("heaven") or a constant low ("hell"), most of us are somewhere in between ("purgatory"). This is like the Apostle learning to be content in whatever situation. Heaven and hell are happening on earth at the same time and they are happening to us. The Christian understands this in terms of sin and forgiveness and the gradual purging of the old life by the sanctification that comes with growing in grace. Both Scripture and experience bear out the realities of being purged as being refined by fire. The Scripture states that the faith is "more precious than gold."

We might say that just as there is hell on earth and heaven on earth that there is also "purgatory on earth". This could be understand as "expiatory"; the work of God such as we know in the passion and death of Jesus on the cross and being baptized both into His death and into His resurrection. We certainly have taste of such a state here on earth. He became flesh and dwelt among us that we might partake of His divine nature. As we follow Jesus and bear our crosses we come to know both the suffering and the joy of knowing Christ, who cleanses us from all sin.