Sunday, October 31, 2010

October 31 is All Hallowed Eve/Reformation Day But There is Yet Hope for Christian Unity

Today is a special day for both Catholics and Protestants.

If you are Catholic, October 31 is All Hallowed Eve, the eve of All Saints Day. All Saints Day honors the lives of all saints who have not been officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. For there are many who have gone before us and are with God in Heaven as saints.

If you are Protestant,October 31 is Reformation Day. On this day 493 years ago, Martin Luther is said to have nailed his 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg Cathedral. On Reformation Day, Protestants recall the lives of the reformers - the most famous ones being Martin Luther and John Calvin.

As you can see, October 31 divides Christians. But there is hope. On All Hallowed Eve/Reformation Day 1999, the Roman Catholic Church and the Lutheran World Federation signed the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification saying,

"In faith we together hold the conviction that justification is the work of the triune God. The Father sent his Son into the world to save sinners. The foundation and presupposition of justification is the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Christ. Justification thus means that Christ himself is our righteousness, in which we share through the Holy Spirit in accord with the will of the Father. Together we confess: By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping and calling us to good works.

All people are called by God to salvation in Christ. Through Christ alone are we justified, when we receive this salvation in faith. Faith is itself God's gift through the Holy Spirit who works through word and sacrament in the community of believers and who, at the same time, leads believers into that renewal of life which God will bring to completion in eternal life.

We also share the conviction that the message of justification directs us in a special way towards the heart of the New Testament witness to God's saving action in Christ: it tells us that as sinners our new life is solely due to the forgiving and renewing mercy that God imparts as a gift and we receive in faith, and never can merit in any way.

Therefore the doctrine of justification, which takes up this message and explicates it, is more than just one part of Christian doctrine. It stands in an essential relation to all truths of faith, which are to be seen as internally related to each other. It is an indispensable criterion which constantly serves to orient all the teaching and practice of our churches to Christ. When Lutherans emphasize the unique significance of this criterion, they do not deny the interrelation and significance of all truths of faith. When Catholics see themselves as bound by several criteria, they do not deny the special function of the message of justification. Lutherans and Catholics share the goal of confessing Christ in all things, who alone is to be trusted above all things as the one Mediator (1 Tim 2:5f) through whom God in the Holy Spirit gives himself and pours out his renewing gifts."

             - The full document can be found on the Vatican website:

This is so exciting and definitely made my day. We are now one step closer to unity. Of course, there is a long way to go and I doubt complete unity will be achieved in my life time; however, this declaration is certainly a cause to rejoice. Let us continue to love and learn about and from each other, for it is certainly NOT through hatred and ignorance that Christians will ever achieve unity. God Bless You All!!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Ezekiel Part 2: Does Science Prevent Us From Following God?

Ezekiel is sent by God to scare the Israelites into faith.  But is this even effective today? Sometimes I feel that it must have been easier for the ancient Israelites to fear God than it is for us today because while we think we can explain away everything by science, the Israelites were not able to do that. Although God was very much present in the joys of the Israelites’ lives, He was more noticeably present in the midst of their sorrows because suffering was seen as punishment from God. But today, even though science and religion do not in fact contradict each other, many in our society have decided that science has won – that science has found the answer to everything and that God must not exist. When God condemns the city of Nineveh through the prophet Jonah, a whole city stops, repents, and begs for forgiveness. When Ezekiel prophesies disaster and when disaster comes, the Jews see this as God fulfilling his promise, not merely as an unfortunate event. Unlike some, I do not believe that the United States in 2010 A.D. is any worse off than Judea in 550 B.C. but is it any better? We have our own idols and many seem to have forgotten God altogether. Is it our trust in science that has prevented us from trusting and worshipping God? Has science become our God? If this is the case, it should not be so. I feel that the greatest challenge for Christians in the 21st century will be to convince the so-called intellectuals of our society (doctors, professors, scientists, businessmen, etc.) that it is not necessary to empty their brains to follow Christ. While an extreme fear of God like that experienced by Medieval Christians is unhealthy and comes from a grave misunderstanding of the nature of God, a healthy fear prevents one from ignoring Him altogether.  Of course, we must recognize God’s presence at all times. After all, we should not wait for disaster to strike before we decide to honor and respect Him.  
As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, "We must recognize God not only where we reach the limits of our possibilities. God wants to be recognized in the midst of our lives, in life and not only in dying, in health and strength and not only in suffering, in action and not only in sin. The ground for this lies in the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. God is the center of life and doesn’t just “turn up” when we have unsolved problems to be solved."

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Beautiful Poem By Carol Wimmer

When I Say...

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not shouting, “I’ve been saved!”
I’m whispering, “I get lost!
That’s why I chose this way”

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t speak with human pride
I’m confessing that I stumble -
needing God to be my guide

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not trying to be strong
I’m professing that I’m weak
and pray for strength to carry on

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not bragging of success
I’m admitting that I’ve failed
and cannot ever pay the debt

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I don’t think I know it all
I submit to my confusion
asking humbly to be taught

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I’m not claiming to be perfect
My flaws are far too visible
but God believes I’m worth it

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I still feel the sting of pain
I have my share of heartache
which is why I seek His name

When I say, “I am a Christian”
I do not wish to judge
I have no authority
I only know I’m loved

Monday, October 4, 2010

Today is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi!!

So, today is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi. I absolutely love this saint and not only because he loved animals. I feel as if Francis lived out the gospel better than anybody. Today, I think I’ll just post two quotes from him that have truly inspired me and I’ll write a little reflection after each one. I hope they inspire you as well.

“My brothers, God called me to walk in the way of humility and showed me the way of simplicity. I do not want to hear any mention of the rule of St Augustine, of St Bernard or of St Benedict. The Lord has told me that he wanted to make a new fool of me in the world, and God does not want to lead us by any other knowledge than that.”

The last line has sometimes been translated: "He told me I am to be a new kind of fool in this world.” I wish I had enough nerves to sign all my emails with this quote because to be a practicing Christian in this day and age is to be a fool. And somebody like Francis knew this better than anyone else. Even in the Middle Ages when everyone it seems was Christian, Francis was mocked by many, including his own brothers. But Francis knew what God had called him to do. To follow God’s calling is not always rational by the world’s standards. I’m thinking of a ton of people in the Bible like Moses, Abraham, and Paul who were called to do the absurd.

“Above all the graces and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which Christ grants to his friends, is the grace of overcoming self, and accepting willingly, out of love for Christ, all suffering, injury, discomfort and contempt; for in all other gifts of God we cannot glory, seeing they proceed not from ourselves but from God, according to the words of the Apostle, ‘What hast thou that thou has not received from God? and if thou hast received it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?’ But in the cross of tribulation and affliction we may glory, because, as the Apostle says again, ‘I will not glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Amen.”

This quote is the end of a long discourse between St. Francis and Brother Leo over the meaning of true joy. I posted a few months ago chapter 8 of the Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi. Here is the link:

These words from this great saint never cease to render me speechless. Anyone could have foreseen Francis saying that true joy comes from suffering. Yes. But his explanation for this belief is so profound. We cannot “glory” over the good things of the world because all good things come from above, but in patiently suffering, we make the choice to follow Christ even if it would be easier to curse and deny him. All good things we have in life are gifts, blessings that we do not deserve, but to glorify God even in the midst of our suffering is a choice we alone can make.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Christians in the Roman Empire

Healing of the Paralytic (c.235), oldest known depiction
of Jesus found in a house-church in Dura Europos (Syria)
Before I write the second part of my reflections on the Book of Ezekiel I thought I would post something you all may find fascinating. I did a small study on Roman emperors last year; I studied the biographies of emperors from Julius Caesar to Nero written by two ancient Roman historians: Tacitus and Suetonius. Below is an exerpt from Tacitus' account of Nero. Nero burned the city of Rome in 64 AD for no apparent reason and blamed it on the Christians.

"But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular."

Taken from:

Roman officials certainly were disgusted by this "mischievous supersition." In A Brief History of the Romans by Mary Boatwright, the author explains why:

“The egalitarian Christian “community”(agape) ignored differences of legal, social, or political status. This alternative approach attracted many individuals excluded from Rome’s elites. Women were welcome in the Christian commuity, too, and they seemed to have played important roles as organizers and proselytizers in the early church.

For these and other reasons, there developed the impression that Christians rejected Roman order and society. Their scriptures advocated peace. Many of their rites and customs were misunderstood. Their “eating the body and drinking the blood of their Savior” was called cannibalism, and their habit of addressing one another as “brother” and “sister” was taken to signify incestuous promiscuity” (p.271).