FULLY CHRISTIAN was formerly CATHOLIC IN THE OZARKS
Still 100% Catholic, and 100% Christian.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mother of the Americas

Storming of the Teocalli by Cortez and His Troops
by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (1816-1868)

The year is 1521 AD. The capital city of the Aztec empire falls to Spanish imperial forces, who have just conquered the Mesoamerican culture of the New World. This marks the end of the most advanced civilisation ever produced by the Amerindian (Native American) peoples. From this time forward, all Amerindian would fall under submission to European power. Conquered and humiliated, the Aztec people become second-class citizens in Spanish America. European settlers have no problem perpetuating this status quo. Millions of Aztec people are now living as strangers on their own continental soil. They've lost their sovereignty, power, homeland and in some cases even their freedom. Pride is all they have left, and daily this is subjected to the status quo of second-class citizenship. Orders from the king of Spain, and the pope himself, would eventually bring an end to these abuses. However, the Aztec people have every reason to hate the Spaniards, and everything they brought with them to the Americas -- including their religion. But less than 20 years later, virtually all of them simultaneously accept Jesus Christ and convert to Catholic Christianity by their own free will. The Spanish are left speechless, astonished by what just happened.

WHY?

Why would an entire civilisation of people, who had been Pagans for thousands of years, and had every right to hate everything the Spanish settlers represented, suddenly and inexplicably embrace the Spaniards' religion as their own?

Saint Juan Diego
by Miguel Cabrera (1695–1768)
The answer is in a supernatural and miraculous visitation from heaven. In 1531 a "Lady from Heaven" appeared to a poor Christian Aztec named Juan Diego at Tepeyac, a hill northwest of Mexico City; she identified herself as the "Mother of the True God," instructed him to have the local bishop build a temple on the site, and as a sign she left an image of herself imprinted miraculously on his cloak (or 'tilma'). The tilma is a poor quality cactus-cloth, which should have deteriorated in 20 years but shows no sign of decay after 470 years, to the present day, and still defies all scientific explanations of its origin.

The image appeared instantly and miraculously in front of many witnesses, some of them local dignitaries. The Lady instructed Juan to gather some roses from the site where she made her appearance to him. Since roses were out of season (it was December), this was to be a sign to the local bishop that the 'Lady from Heaven' had truly appeared to Juan Diego, and his story was true. He gathered the roses into his tilma and carried them to the local bishop who was meeting with some Spanish dignitaries at the time. As he dropped his garment to release the roses, the image of the Lady from Heaven miraculously and spontaneously appeared on the tilma. The bishop and his guests immediately fell to their knees in astonishment.

The Lady's only request was that a temple be erected on the hill where the apparition took place. The reason she gave for this was as follows: "I am the ever virgin Holy Mary, Mother of the True God for whom we live, of the Creator of all things, Lord of heaven and the earth. I wish that a temple be erected here quickly, so I may therein exhibit and give all my love, compassion, help, and protection, because I am your merciful mother, to you, and to all the inhabitants on this land and all the rest who love me, invoke and confide in me; listen there to their lamentations, and remedy all their miseries, afflictions and sorrows." As the bishop agreed to grant the request, he sent Juan home to his uncle who had been sick with a terminal disease. During the course of the Marian apparitions to Juan, she had promised him that his uncle would be healed, but he had not seen him for a long time. So when he returned to his village, the bishop sent escorts to go with him and record everything they saw. When they got there, they found Juan's uncle well and joyously celebrating his healing. It was then Juan learnt that on the very day the Lady promised Juan that his uncle would be healed, his uncle saw a vision of the Lady exactly as Juan had described to the bishop some time earlier. The two (Juan and his uncle) had not communicated during this whole time. Yet, their description of the Lady was exactly identical. The Lady told Juan's uncle that when he would go to see the bishop, to reveal to him what he had seen and to explain the miraculous manner in which he was healed, that she would properly be named the blessed Image, the ever-virgin Holy Mary of Guadalupe.

Now why should the Virgin Mary, appearing to an Indian in 16th century Mexico, and speaking to him in his native language of Nahuatl, call herself “Guadalupe”, a Spanish name?

It is believed that the Lady used the Aztec Nahuatl word of coatlaxopeuh which is pronounced "Gwad-a-lup-eh." Coa meaning serpent, tla being the noun ending which can be interpreted as "the", while xopeuh means to crush or stamp out. So the Lady may have called herself "the one who crushes the serpent." We must remember that the Aztecs worshipped the serpent-god Quetzalcoatl, and annually offered at least 20,000 men, women and children in human sacrifice to their Pagan gods. In 1487, in a 4-day long ceremony for the dedication of a new temple in Tenochtitlan, some 80,000 captives were killed in human sacrifice. Certainly in this case, the Lady 'crushed' the serpent, because within a few years after her apparition to Juan Diego, nine million of these natives were converted to Christianity.

Modern infra-red studies of the image reveal unexplainable phenomena: The image was not painted, and the colour did not penetrate the fibres as would paint. Weaving with such irregular fibres also produced a rough surface which would have distorted any simple surface painting, yet the image one sees is clear and undistorted.

Original image of Our Lady of Guadalupe
photo by Joaquín Martínez Rosado
Most remarkable about this image is the recent scientific research done on the Lady’s eyes. Magnified studies reveal the startling image of reflections, as if they were frozen onto the image the moment it appeared to the bishop and his guests nearly five-hundred years ago. One of the first doctors to study the eyes was Dr. Javier Torroella Bueno, MDS, a prestigious ophthalmologist. In what is the first report on the eyes of the image issued by a physician, he certifies the presence of the triple reflection (Samson-Purkinje effect) characteristic of all live human eyes and states that the resulting images are located exactly where they are supposed to be according to such effect, and also that the distortion of the images agree with the curvature of the cornea. In both eyes, the largest and most obvious reflection is of a "bearded man," probably the bishop's translator who interpreted the exchange between the Spanish speaking bishop and the native speaking Juan Diego.

A new and fascinating kind of analysis of the eyes started in 1979, when Dr. Jose Aste Tonsmann, Ph D, graduated from Cornell University, while working in IBM scanned at very high resolutions a very good photograph, taken from the original, of the face on the tilma. After filtering and processing the digitised images of the eyes to eliminate "noise" and enhance them, he made some astonishing discoveries: According to Dr. Tonsmann, from left to right we can see the Indian, Bishop Zumarraga, the translator, and Juan Diego showing the tilma.

The image of the Lady of Guadalupe has great symbolism. The Lady's image is surrounded by luminous light, standing on the moon, and the stars on her mantle reflect the description found in the Book of Revelation: "A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars" (Revelation 12:1).

These are also symbols of divine victory over the pagan religion of the time. Sun rays were symbolic of the Aztec god Huitzilopochtle. Therefore, the Lady, standing before the rays, shows that she proclaims the true God who is greater than Huitzilopochtle and who eclipses his power.

She stands also on the moon. The moon represented night and darkness, and was associated with the god Tezcatlipoca. Here again, the Lady’s standing on the moon indicates divine triumph over evil.
Moreover, in Christian iconography, the crescent moon under the Lady’s feet also symbolises perpetual virginity and is connected with the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception and the Blessed Assumption.

The stars on her mantle indicate that she comes from Heaven, her dress is also modelled after that of an Aztec queen. Interestingly, some research attests that the stars on the mantle appear exactly as they would have in the sky before dawn on the Morning of December 12, 1531, when the vision appeared.

The face of the Lady, with its complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes, reflects the physiognomy of a Amerindian. Her eyes are also cast downward, showing humility and compassion. In Aztec iconography, a god looked straight ahead with wide open eyes; the picture here then shows that the Lady does not claim to be God, but only His messenger and loving mother. The Lady is supported by an angel, another symbol of royalty among Amerindian cultures.

Her clothing also has special significance. The rose colour of the Lady's dress has two interpretations, either as a symbol of the dawn of a new era, or as sign of martyrdom for the faith. A red dress is also interpreted as a symbol of virginity in eastern Christian iconography. The gold brooch under her neck represents sanctity. Finally the bow around her waist is another sign of virginity. However this bow has several other meanings in Amerindian culture: this bow was the nahui ollin, the flower of the sun, which was a symbol of plenitude, fecundity and new life. The high placement of the bow and the apparent swelling of the abdomen of the Lady have led many to conclude that she is pregnant in this image.

This image became a symbol of unity between European and Amerindian cultures in Central America. Both peoples could easily identify with it. As a result, virtually the entire Aztec empire (some nine million people in total), all of them Pagan, accepted Christ and converted to Catholic Christianity within a space of just a few years.

Today she remains the patron not only of Mexico, but of all the Americas, including Canada and the United States. She is the symbol of racial unity between the children of European settlers and American natives. She speaks to us only of the Lordship of her divine Son -- Jesus Christ -- and of his victory over the powers of hell. Through this image, the message is clear. The old ways of Pagan devotion to the false gods, must give way to true worship of the one true God. In this truth, all the American peoples (regardless of race and culture) will find unity and peace.

In today's modern world, she is also honoured by Catholics on both American continents as the patron of our hemisphere and the protector of all children -- especially the unborn. In particular, this image of our Blessed Mother has been closely associated with the Pro-Life movement, because of the modern similarity of surgical and chemical abortion to the human sacrifice of ancient Aztec society. The Aztecs sacrificed human beings to their gods, particularly the serpent god Quetzalcoatl, in the hope of gaining favour and prosperity. While modern Americans no longer worship Aztec idols, many do still sacrifice their unborn children to the "gods" of prosperity and convenience. Instead of counting children as a blessing from the Lord, regardless of the circumstances in which they were conceived, modern American culture views them as a burden and an obstacle to material happiness. This attitude can only be spawned by Satan -- the Biblical serpent depicted in Genesis 3 and Revelation 12. The pregnant image of Our Lady reminds us of the blessings of the unborn and identifies the sin of abortion for what it really is -- human sacrifice. The image of Our Lady is the Mother of all the Americas, and she is calling us to remember her unborn Son -- Jesus Christ -- as we work to defend the unborn here in the New World.

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Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Mary -- Conceived without Sin

The Immaculate Conception, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
painted AD 1767-1768
As the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (Dec. 8th) approaches, I thought it appropriate to explain the significance of this feast. This is probably the most misunderstood doctrine among non-Catholics. Even some Catholics don't understand it. To be clear, let's define it. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a dogma, meaning that is is a required belief of all Catholics. In other words, if you don't believe in the Immaculate Conception, then technically speaking, you're not really Catholic. It is defined as the belief that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was herself conceived without the stain of original sin.

Some Protestants contend that the doctrine is "unbiblical," that it "deifies Mary as a goddess," and "diminishes the role of Christ in the redemption of humanity." Such contention is unwarranted, and a little paranoid, as I'll demonstrate below.

The stain of original sin was defined by St. Augustine as the mark of sin inherited by all people from the time of their conception. This means that when the first humans (Adam and Eve) sinned against God, they did so before any of their children were born. Because of this, all children conceived after their sin (i.e. the whole human race), would inherent the stain of the sin they committed. The sin they committed was one of selfishness and rebellion against God. The stain of this sin penetrated all the way through their souls to the flesh itself -- staining it and corrupting it. Thus, all children born of their flesh would inherit this stain of original sin. Think of it as a hereditary trait. It is manifested in the form of pride, selfishness and rebellion. It creates in people the desire to commit various sins: lying, cheating, stealing, lust, rage, etc. It can be seen from the earliest ages of childhood. Every time a small child acts in a selfish way, or becomes rebellious toward his parents, he demonstrates the stain of original sin in his own mind and body. God designed human beings to be totally selfless, giving, and obedient creatures. But this does not describe the human race today. That's because the stain of original sin, inherited from our first parents (Adam and Eve), has twisted and corrupting what God has created. Instead of being selfless, we are selfish. Instead of being giving, we are greedy. Instead of being obedient, we are rebellious. Such is the nature of our fallen human race. Now many Protestants think of original sin as a type of depravity -- moral corruption or innate wickedness -- as if people are "evil" at their core. Catholics tend to see original sin more as deprivation than depravity -- meaning that original sin deprives human beings of what they need to be holy. The desire to be loving and selfless is there, but the deprivation of original sin makes that impossible to achieve on our own.

God cannot tolerate sin, and it must be dealt with. Before mankind can be restored to God, we must first be freed of the original sin that stains and deprives us. This is the reason why God sent Jesus Christ (God made flesh) into the world. His sacrificial death on the cross frees us from all sin, including original sin. But in order for this sacrifice to be atoning for the human race, it must come from a member of the human race. Only a perfect and spotless human being can undo the damage done by our first parents. A perfect duplicate (or copy) of a human being wouldn't be enough. This spotless sacrifice must be a direct descendant of the sinful human race, and he must be divine himself, so that he may atone for all human sins, not just the first one. Protestant Christians understand this concept very well, and teach it in their churches. They know that Jesus must atone for all the sins of the world, and they know he is fully human as well as fully divine. In this sense, Protestants are very "Catholic" in their thinking. What they often fail to consider is that the flesh of Jesus Christ must be truly descended from the sinful human race in order for Jesus to be truly "one of us." If God created a whole new body in Mary's womb from "the dust of the earth" so to speak, essentially a copy of humanity, totally separate from any sinful human genetics, he really wouldn't be human at all. He would be a whole new race, entirely separate from the human race, and completely disconnected from the rest of humanity. He might look like us, but he wouldn't really be "one of us." In order for Jesus Christ to truly be "one of us," he would have to be genetically linked to the human race, and since Jesus only has one biological parent, there is only one person through whom that link can be made. That person is the Blessed Virgin Mary.

When Jesus was miraculously conceived inside Mary's womb, at the time of the annunciation by the Angel Gabriel, his human genetic make-up came directly from her. True, his divine nature came directly from the Godhead, but his human nature came from Mary. So Mary is the human genetic link between Jesus Christ (God made flesh) and mankind. There is only one problem. If Mary's flesh was stained with original sin (like the rest of us), than Jesus would have inherited that same original sin nature. Yet the Scriptures clearly tell us that Jesus was without sin. So we have a theological problem. How could Jesus' flesh and blood be "without sin" if he inherited his human flesh and blood from Mary? Granted, he is God, so he can do whatever he wants, but he chose to do it a certain way that was fitting to his desire. Enter the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

From the earliest times, Christians have always believed that Mary was immaculate -- meaning perfect and without sin....
"He (Jesus) was the ark formed of incorruptible wood (Mary). For by this is signified that His tabernacle (body) was exempt from putridity and corruption (sin)." -- (Hippolytus, AD 235)  
"This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one." -- (Origen, AD 244) 
The idea here is that God miraculously preserved Mary from original sin from the time of her first existence (i.e. conception). The idea comes from the Holy Scripture in which the Angel Gabriel says to Mary: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you." -- (Luke 1:28) The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It expresses a characteristic quality of Mary that is unique. The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent English versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favoured one." Mary was indeed a highly favoured daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that. The grace given to Mary is both permanent and unique. Kecharitomene is a perfect, passive, participle of the Greek word charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was given this grace in the past, but it has a continuing effect in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed did not begin at the angel’s visit. In fact, according to meaning the Greek word kecharitomene, it extended over her whole life, from conception onward. She was in a state of grace from the first moment of her existence (i.e. conception).

Now there is nothing particularly new about this concept. Biblically speaking, Mary wasn't the first person God fashioned in a perfect state of grace -- immaculate -- or without sin. The very first examples we have are Adam and Eve themselves. Both Adam and Eve were in a perfect state of grace at their "conception." Though the Scriptures tell us God fashioned them using a different method than normal procreation, it doesn't change the fact that they were made "without sin" (i.e. immaculate). So we could say the first immaculate conception happened in Eden when God formed the first man (Adam) and the first woman (Eve). In many ways, we could even consider the immaculate conception of Mary a "less dramatic miracle" (if we dare) because God still used the normal procreative processes when he fashioned her.

The question that arises is how? How would God fashion Mary "without sin" when both her parents were obviously stained by original sin, and they conceived her naturally? That is the mystery of the miracle. We can only conclude that God had already chosen Mary as Christ's mother, even from the first moment of her conception in the womb of her own mother. That being the case, the only reason why Mary was conceived without sin is because of Jesus Christ. Her body (flesh and blood) was redeemed retroactively, by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, that wouldn't happen until three decades later, because she was chosen to be the vessel through whom Jesus Christ (The Eternal Word) would enter this world as a human being.

Theologically this is very important, because Jesus received all of his human flesh and blood from Mary. That flesh and blood ought to be unspoiled and unstained by sin. Furthermore, modern science tells us that cells from the mother and child do exchange between them during pregnancy. Jesus and Mary literally shared flesh and blood, as all mothers and their babies do during normal human pregnancy. They were in a state of physical communion during that nine months of pregnancy. That means for Jesus to inherit and maintain a perfect body from his mother, without sin, his physical mother should be without sin as well. Likewise, if Mary was to be in a state of physical communion with her son Jesus, receiving his flesh and blood while he was in her womb, it would be necessary for her to be in a perfect state of grace -- immaculate. While God can do anything he wants, it is only fitting and proper for things to be done this way, and the Scriptures seem to support this with the angelic salutation "full of grace.”

So the doctrine of the immaculate conception does not "deify" Mary as many Protestants falsely believe. Nor does it diminish the role of Christ in the redemption of the human race. You can't even say it's "unbiblical" since the Greek word kecharitomene in Luke 1:28 practically defines the doctrine. Rather, it simply states that Mary was no different than the sinless Eve before the fall. Does this mean that Mary was better than Eve? No. Does this mean that Mary was greater or less than Eve? No. It means she was exactly the same as Eve physically, mentally and spiritually speaking. Does this mean that Mary could have sinned? YES! She most certainly could have followed the example of Eve and disobeyed the command of God. If she had, she would have suffered the same fate as Eve, and carried the stain of original sin herself. But the difference is that when the test was given, Mary chose to obey God whereas Eve did not. Eve's test was in the fruit of the tree. Mary's test was in the fruit of the womb. Eve failed her test, while Mary joyously passed hers. From the moment she responded to the angel, "Behold I am the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word" -- (Luke 1:38), she accepted the Lord's will for her, even though she knew it would bring her hardship. Because of that, Mary's purpose was fulfilled. God preserved her without sin, to be like Eve, so she could become the "New Eve," and bring forth the "New Adam" (Romans 5:12-21) who is Christ the Lord.

So now, the question of "why?" arises. Why did Mary choose to obey God, while Eve chose to disobey? Any answer we give is pure speculation, of course, but I think a fair speculation would be the Old Covenant itself. Mary was a Jew. She was raised her whole life to follow the Jewish laws. Tradition tells us she was educated as a child in the Jerusalem Temple, where she served as a consecrated virgin for the Lord. (Protoevangelium of James) Thus Mary had a grace that Eve was not given -- the Mosaic Law. Because of this, she had an understanding of God that was somewhat of a mystery to Eve. Beyond that, unlike Eve, Mary was able to personally witness the effects of original sin all around her. Eve learnt that lesson the hard way, having no prior experience with sin, she introduced original sin to the world with Adam her husband. Mary, in contrast, spent a lifetime toiling in the effects of that original sin, working for survival in a broken world filled with pain and suffering, even though she herself was sinless. This experience, combined with the Mosaic Law, certainly helped to give Mary the courage to say "yes" to a plan that would ultimately bring much more pain and suffering into her own life.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is rich in ancient Jewish symbolism. It is foreshadowed in the Old Testament with the Ark of the Covenant. Hebrews 9:4 tells us that the contents contained inside the Ark of the Covenant were; the stone tablets of the Law (the word of God), along with a jar of manna (bread from heaven) and Aaron's rod (a symbol of the holy priesthood).  All of these are images foreshadowing Jesus Christ, who is the incarnate Word of God (John 1:1-4,14), the Bread from Heaven (John 6:31-65) and our eternal High Priest (Hebrews 4:14).

Now the Ark of the Covenant was consecrated to God and considered holy. It was not to be touched by sinful man under penalty of death, and God himself had no problem exacting this penalty, even when a man touched it in an attempt to prevent it from falling (2nd Samuel 6:6-7; 1st Chronicles 13:9-10).  This Old Testament example is designed to illustrate that the ark, which carried the symbols of the Old Covenant, was just as holy as the Old Covenant itself.

Now as I said, the stone tablets, manna and rod were signs foreshadowing Jesus Christ. He is the New Covenant. Thus the "ark" that carried him in her womb is holy too, just as the ark that carried the symbols that foreshadowed him was holy. Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant because she carried Jesus Christ in her womb. Jesus, who is the Word of God, the Bread of Life and our eternal High Priest, was carried for nine months inside the "ark" of Mary. She carried him in her arms and on her hip for another two years at least.  If the ark of the Old Covenant was holy, than surely this ark of the New Covenant is even holier.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception points more to Christ than Mary. Though Mary is the object of the doctrine, she is not the subject of it. The subject is Christ, and it is his perfectly sinless body that is being addressed. Through Mary, Jesus inherited the "flesh and blood" of mankind. He bore the genetic code of the fallen human race, yet he did so with one modification, the stain of original sin was removed. The flesh he inherited was immaculate. That immaculate flesh was the gift of his mother -- Mary -- who herself received it as a gift from God. So Jesus really and truly was descended from Adam and Eve through Mary. He really and truly was "one of us," having the same ancestors and genetic code that originated from them. God rehabilitated the original, immaculate nature of humanity in Mary, but her sinlessness didn't help anybody but herself. She was the only beneficiary of this filling of grace (kecharitomene). Mary's sinlessness doesn't save anybody else. It doesn't save me, and it doesn't save you. All God did with the immaculate conception was reset the clock, so to speak, to give one person another chance. For the sake of humanity, and revealing himself in the Law of Moses, God gave one more human being, schooled in that law, a chance to say "yes" for humanity. Her "yes" brought forth the Messiah who would fulfil the Law of Moses, and effectively save the rest of us. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, is a doctrine that points entirely to Jesus Christ. Without him, the Immaculate Conception of Mary makes no logical sense.

In following Jesus Christ, we all become "immaculate" upon our baptism. This is the promise that is given to us. Granted, our bodies (and minds) remain damaged by sin, but this is a temporary condition. Those who are faithful, and endure to the end, not only get to look forward to an afterlife in heaven, but also a future resurrection, in which our recreated bodied will be like those of Jesus and Mary -- perfect and immaculate. In this life, the Christian is privileged to experience an immaculate soul upon the sacraments of baptism and reconciliation. In the next life, however, Christians will be privileged to experience an immaculate body as well.

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Click Image to Learn More
Highly recommended by priests and catechists, "Catholicism for Protestants" is a Biblical explanation of Roman Catholic Christianity as told by Shane Schaetzel -- an Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church through Anglicanism.  The book is concise and formatted in an easy-to-read Question & Answer catechism style.  It addresses many of the common questions Protestants have about Catholicism. It is ideal for Protestants seeking more knowledge about the Catholic Church, and for Catholics seeking a quick refresher course on fundamental Catholic teaching. It's an excellent book for Catholics and Protestants alike!

THE BOOK CONTAINS A
NIHIL OBSTAT AND 
IMPRIMATUR
ORDER YOUR COPY HERE

Monday, 3 November 2014

The Synod and the Ordinariates

Katherine of Aragon Denounced Before King Henry VIII and His Council
Painted by Laslett John Pott, AD 1880

After watching what happened at the Extraordinary Synod on the Family in Rome last month, I am now 100% convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the monsignor ordinaries, of the personal ordinariates for Anglicans, need to be given a place in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in October 2015. Why? I say this because their presence in the Catholic Church, indeed the reason for their existence as head of the ordinariates, and the very reason for the existence of the ordinariates themselves, is directly related to the modernist attack on the family.

Reunion with Rome has always been a goal for the anglo-catholic movement within Anglicanism. But actual corporate reunion with Rome never really happened until after the radical changes that occurred in the Anglican Communion between 1970 through 2010. It started out subtly, way back in 1930, with the acceptance of artificial contraception in the Anglican Communion. In time however, within a span of about 50 years, this subtle acceptance of childless-sex (sex without openness to the creation of children) exploded into a lax approach toward abortion, militant feminism and "irregular unions" of couples. Indeed, the Church of England herself, originally broke with Rome on the compromise that a man can annul his marriage with his wife (effectively divorce her), on whatever grounds he likes, so long as he's the king of course. It would be ridiculous to assume that Anglicans agreed with that notion on the whole, they didn't, but what could they do? He was the king! He does whatever he likes! Opposing him usually had undesirable consequences. Just ask Saint Thomas More. That however, was a long time ago. The connections of modern Anglicanism to this historical event are sparse, but they do exist. It is an internal struggle within English Christianity, that was in some times subtle, and in other times overt. In recent times however, this struggle has taken centre stage.

The source of the modernist attack on marriage and the family is not religious. It comes from the ideas of the secular world, which is at its heart anti-Christian. King Henry VIII didn't invent it. He succumbed to it. The Church of England did not formulate it. Rather, it tolerated it. Modern times are no different. The modern attack on the Christian family enters the Church through compromise. Christian denominations do not invent these things. Instead they cave into them. They succumb to them. That's what happened in the Anglican Communion, and it happened in many other Protestant denominations too. It's even beginning to happen in the more conservative Baptist and Pentecostal churches in America now. After what we just witnessed in the Extraordinary Synod on the Family last October, it NEARLY happened in the Catholic Church too! It seems however, that in the Protestant world, Anglicanism is leading the charge into compromise, particularly in The Episcopal Church in the United States, which not only ordains female priests and bishops (an authority never granted by Christ), but also has no problem blessing the same-sex "marriages" of its members and those it ordains. The other Anglican jurisdictions (Australia, Canada and the Church of England) follow not too far behind. So with the American Anglican jurisdiction leading the way, it is only fitting that some American Episcopalians were the first to lead a pilgrimage of reconciliation back into the Catholic Church.

The Pastoral Provision, which lead to the Anglican Use of the Roman Rite within the Roman Catholic Church, was the prototype of what would eventually become the personal ordinariates for Anglicans worldwide (The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham, The Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter, The Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross). During the 1980s through 1990s, many Episcopalian priests were reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church. Some of them were ordained Catholic priests under the Pastoral Provision created by Saint John Paul II. When we listen to them, and learn of their conversion, we hear two things. First, they weren't necessarily running away from something (liberal attitudes within Anglicanism) as they were running toward something. It wasn't about running away from female priests and bishops, or liberal attitudes toward sex, or even modernity in worship styles. That did play a big role, but if that's all they were doing, they could have much more easily joined one of the breakaway Anglican bodies, such as the Anglican Church in North America or the Traditional Anglican Communion. No. They chose a much more difficult path, because they believed in something. In addition to the sacraments, authority of the pope, and the catholicity of the Christian faith, they also believed in the Catholic vision of marriage and the family. Many of these Episcopalian priests, who were married themselves, understood the importance of this primary Christian teaching. The family is the domestic church, and it's the duty of the local church (parish), particular church (diocese) and universal Church (Catholic) to protect it, as well as support it. Marriage is the glue that holds the domestic church (the family) together, and when the glue is watered down through compromise, the domestic church (family) breaks apart. This has drastic negative repercussions on the local church, particular church, and universal Church. As married clergy, they saw the big picture on a very personal level. So they moved to reconcile with the largest Church in the world that holds to that same vision -- the Catholic Church. Second, they were fulfilling their Anglican destiny. The deepest desire of the anglo-catholic movement within Anglicanism is reconciliation with the Roman Catholic Church, the Church from which Anglicanism originally came 500 years ago. Yet they wanted to do this as Anglicans. They wanted to be united to Rome, but not absorbed by her, so that they could bring with them not only the liturgy of their Anglican patrimony, but their experiences as well. I'm speaking of 500 years-worth of experience in the Protestant world, living as Protestants, among other Protestant churches. I'm speaking of the important lessons they learnt, the difficulties they overcame, and the sensibility of finding that middle-ground between the Catholic and Protestant ethos. There is something invaluable that former Anglicans have to bring to the table in the Catholic Church's discussions on the family. Who better to exemplify the relation between the Church and the family than a married priest? This is a man who has one foot in each world, and lives it sacramentally every day of his life. Surely the Catholic Church wants to hear from such men. Surely Rome is interested. Surely, the pope will invite them to come, share, and be part of the process. I have no doubt he will.

Beneath the vestments, and within the collar, stand men who's very existence in the Catholic Church is built on this primary question. What is marriage and family in the Christian experience? The separation of the Church of England from Rome was based on this very question. The growth and experience of Anglicanism in the Protestant world has this nagging question ringing in the background. The modern experience of Anglicanism, along with all of the innovations and scandals that have plagued it in recent decades, are based again on this very same question. What is marriage and family in the Christian experience? The creation of the Pastoral Provision within the Catholic Church, and later the personal ordinariates for Anglicans, are based on it as well. It wasn't just about preserving the Anglican Patrimony within the Catholic Church, though that was a huge part, but it was also about providing a space within the Catholic Church for those Anglicans that share in the traditional Catholic vision of marriage and family. This by extension includes the role of the sexes in the life of the Church, as well as other sexuality issues, authority within the Church, and matters related to family life. It's all related. Is it not? This is the core of what it means to be a Catholic within the personal ordinaraites for Anglicans. It is the very reason for our existence. It is the culmination of 500 years of experience: schism, trial, persecution, endurance, patience and finally reconciliation. It's not just about sacred language and beautiful liturgy, through that is a part of it, but it's more than that. It's about what's behind that language and liturgy itself. It's about the history of how it came to be, and why it came to be. It's about who we are as Christians, and what it means to be married and family. Beyond the liturgy, beyond the language, beyond the patrimony, this is perhaps the greatest gift the Anglican ordinariates have to offer to the Catholic Church! It is simply the Catholic Church's own teaching handed back to her; drenched in the blood of English martyrs, assaulted through the ages, defended in the face of church leaders who opposed it, realised fully under the social collapse of Western civilisation, persecuted in modern times, and finally becoming a major cause behind full reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The English schism began over a dispute about marriage, and in the fullness of time, the Anglican ordinariates were created as a resolution to this dispute. Yes, it's all connected!

My wife an I came into the Catholic Church in the year 2000, after a brief journey through Anglicanism. For us, the Canterbury Trail leads into the Roman Road. Prior to this we were Evangelicals. We were also childless. For us, marriage was not clearly defined by our Evangelical experience. We knew it was God's command, and that it was right, but we didn't fully understand why. Our journey through Anglicanism threw this question into our faces. The very meaning of marriage was questioned. I saw on the horizon the eventual consecration of homosexual bishops and the blessing of gay "weddings." I also witnessed the courage of those brave souls within The Episcopal Church, fighting valiantly to prevent the total collapse of Christian teaching on marriage and family. Yet I knew their courageous efforts would be in vain, because I could see the proverbial "writing on the wall." The national leadership of The Episcopal Church would follow the error of King Henry VIII and expand upon it. It was inevitable. We loved the traditions of Anglicanism. We loved the liturgy and the music. We loved everything about it. What we didn't love was the direction it was going on the issue of marriage and family. I remember the bold homilies taught by our Episcopalian priest. He had no problem staring down the evil of divorce, and had no hesitation calling it sin. He was a good priest, and he knew the true meaning of marriage and family. Yet he had little support in the way of the national leadership of The Episcopal Church. Through his teaching, and through the problems going on in The Episcopal Church at that time, we discovered the true meaning of marriage, and we discovered the greatest defender of that truth -- the Catholic Church. We joined the Catholic Church in the year 2000, and we subsequently began having children. In our conversion, our reconciliation with Rome, we were not just running away from liberal attitudes in The Episcopal Church. If that's all we wanted to do, we would have simply returned to Evangelicalism or joined an Anglican splinter group. Rather, we were running toward something. We were running toward the Church that tirelessly defended what we came to believe in. In the process we discovered the sacraments, the meaning of authority, and the universality of the Church. For us, this is all connected, and at the centre of it all is the meaning of marriage and family. This was our Anglican experience.

I do hope our ordinariates will take up the challenge the Extraordinary Synod on the Family has put before us. I'm sure they will, and I look forward to it. I also look forward to the many invigorating and passionate homilies soon to come from our ordinariate priests on this subject. There is no other group of priests so personally tried and tested on marriage and family. Likewise, if he hasn't already done so, I do hope the pope provides some kind of space for our monsignor ordinaries to fully participate in the upcoming Ordinary Synod on the Family in 2015. I appeal to the Holy Father for this. For I can think of no greater witness to the Catholic Church's teaching on marriage and family, having been tested in the trials of Anglicanism for half a millennium.

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