Saturday, December 29, 2012

Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays?

Should We Be Offended By Happy Holidays?

My answer is NO!  The person, regardless of whether they are aware or not, is actually wishing you have happy HOLY DAYS!  That would actually be the PREFERRED GREETING prior to Christmas Day!  Why?  Because prior to Christmas Day it's NOT CHRISTMAS YET!  The season prior to the Christmas Season is Advent, not Christmas.  Advent is a time of anticipation and penance - it is NOT "Christmas."  The Christmas Season starts with Christmas Day, and then we have the "Twelve Days of Christmas" which run from December 25th through January 5th.  January 6th starts the NEXT season in the liturgical year, and that is the Season of Epiphany!  Some traditions include Epiphany with Christmas extending to "Candlemas" - which traditionally is the celebration of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  It is celebrated the Sunday closest to February 2nd.

How About "Merry X-Mass?"

Well, here again, NO!  The "X" is traditionally a Christian symbol for Christ!  So, in reality, they have not "removed" Christ from Christmas in using X-mas! 

Be Joyful!  Celebrate Christ!

It is my opinion that we should not get all caught up in negativity.  The world has far too much of that as it is.  Let us see joy and hope, especially in this season of Christmas!  Consider how your words and actions appear to others.  Are you presenting a good Christian face to the world?  Or, are you presenting a Scrooge-like face (prior to his epiphany)?  Think about it and BE HAPPY!

Merry Christmas to all and peace to men of good will.

Scott's Conversion Story

Hi all, I have shared a bit more detail in my conversion story on the CDF forum.  That forum is public, so you don't have to be a member of it to read.  You do have to become a member if you want to post a reply or ask a question there - or feel free to do so here.  Anyway, the link to that story is here:

Friday, December 21, 2012

December 25




This coming Tuesday we will be celebrating Christmas, the Incarnation, His coming in the flesh and anticipating His return at the end of time.  We celebrate His birth on December 25, but why the 25th of December?  Is it because Jesus was truly born on that day of the year?

From the very first years of Christianity there’s been disagreement as to when exactly our Lord was born.  Historical documents and even Catholic tradition disagree with each other as well.  I personally believe the Church chose this date and did so for a reason.

Many individuals, even certain groups of Christians accuse the Catholic Church of setting the date in celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ on December 25 to accommodate the pagans of the day.  While its true that many festivals were being celebrated at, or near, Dec 25 doesn’t necessarily mean that the Church chose that date to counteract those pagan festivals or even worse to introduce pagan ideas into the Catholic religion.  It does make one wonder, doesn’t it?   

We know that December 25 already hosted two other related festivals: natalis invicti (the Roman “birth of the unconquered sun”), and the birthday of Mithras, the Iranian “Sun of Righteousness” whose worship was popular with Roman soldiers.  The winter solstice, another celebration of the sun, fell just a few days earlier December 21.

Of the three possibilities, what influenced the Church in choosing December 25 in helping newly converted Christians to remain in the Catholic Church?  In my opinion, I believe it would be all three festivals.

Isn’t Jesus Christ the utmost Ruler of the world surpassing the ‘unconquered sun’?  He is indeed the unconquered Son.  And the same applies to the “Sun of Righteousness”, isn’t Jesus the True Righteous One?  We see definite parallels here and it would therefore make sense to set the celebration of our Lord and Righteous one on that same day.

Even more striking is when we look at the celebration of the winter solstice, which is the shortest day of the year.  Pagans celebrated this day to commemorate the lengthening of the days identifying it as the beginning of a new year.  What many haven’t noticed though is that the shortest day of the year is indeed on December 21 but the days don’t begin to lengthen for another 4 days.  The start of the lengthening of days is what I believe is the most compelling reason in choosing December 25 as the day to celebrate the Incarnation because Jesus is indeed the light of the world (John 9:5).  Therefore celebrating His birth on the day of the year when the daylight hours begin lengthening seems to be a perfect choice.
Ultimately, we don’t know exactly what day of the year our Lord was born.  And His Church doesn’t need to be historically accurate in choosing a date to celebrate His birth so long as we don’t forget what we are celebrating when that day of the year arrives.

Merry Christmas and
God Bless
Nathan

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Christ Mass Memes

How about some Christmas - or as I like to write it, Christmass memes!



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Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Catholic Response to Sola Fide

A Catholic Response to Sola Fide
| October 2007 | Bryan J.P. Gesinger 


A central doctrine of the Protestant Reformation is justification by faith alone (sola fide). Though different Protestant denominations interpret and expound this doctrine in different senses, the general consensus among Protestants remains that man is justified -- i.e., made right with God -- by faith alone, and that, whatever role good works may occupy in man's life, they are not, even partially, the basis of his justification before God. Though sola fide is widely popular, and alluring even for many who do not espouse it, it is alien and contrary to the teaching of Holy Scripture viewed in its entirety, as well as to the teaching of the Church Christ Himself founded 2,000 years ago, the Catholic Church.

Granted, there is much Scripture that, read in isolation, seems to suggest at least the possibility, if not the probability, of justification by faith alone. Protestantism has been so successful and so influential for so long that its apologists have been able to devise various seemingly cogent arguments in favor ofsola fide. However, they generally cite scriptural passages that attest to the seeming probability of sola fide exclusively; if they attempt to account for any of the vast number of passages that undermine the doctrine, a strained effort is made to subordinate such passages to the other, favored set.

It is my task here to address the misconceptions of the Catholic doctrine of Justification, particularly as it harmonizes with Holy Scripture, and to show how the scriptural passages cited in favor of sola fide are to be understood properly in the wider context of both the Old and New Testaments. While the subject's complexity prohibits treating every pertinent issue, we will endeavor to address several common difficulties pertaining to the Catholic Church's doctrine of Justification by faith. It must be stressed at the outset that while the Catholic Church does not teach justification by faith alone, she most certainly teaches justification by faith. However, following Christ, as well as St. Paul and the other New Testament writers, the Catholic Church insists that faith alone is insufficient.

Effective communication between Catholics and Protestants on the subject of justification by faith is often hindered by Catholics' failing to draw necessary distinctions and patiently to recount important nuances reflected in the scriptural texts cited. Often, such omissions reinforce the suspicion that Catholics are insufficiently familiar with Scripture, while the Catholic party contends that his case is inadequately appreciated. (Often, it is inadequately articulated.) Therefore, it is necessary to take careful note of the Catholic resolution of various Protestant difficulties drawn from several controversial scriptural passages.

Perhaps the most often-cited scriptural passage adduced in favor of sola fide and, isolated from its original context, one of the most frequently misrepresented, is St. Paul's recounting the important case study of Abraham's justification in Romans 4:1-5. Because it is always important and instructive to remember the context of a given passage, we shall examine the preceding verses that establish the background of St. Paul's discussion (Rom. 3:19-4:12).


    Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For no human being will be justified in His sight by works of the law, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
    But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction; since all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by His Blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that He Himself is righteous and that He justifies him who has faith in Jesus.
    Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On the principle of works? No, but on the principle of faith. For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one; and He will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
    What then shall we say about Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? "Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due. And to one who does not work but trusts Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness. So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: "Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin." Is this blessing pronounced only upon the circumcised, or also upon the uncircumcised? We say that faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it reckoned to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after but before he was circumcised. He received circumcision as a sign or seal of the righteousness which he had received by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised and who thus have righteousness reckoned to them, and likewise the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but also follow the example of the faith which our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. (emphasis added)
The standard Protestant interpretation of the preceding passage contends that because Abraham was presumably justified without good works, he is the Old Covenant's model of salvation by faith alone in the New Covenant. This contention is a prime example of a text's misinterpretation as a result of isolation from its original context. The immediate context is sufficient at least to indicate the type of "works of law" to which St. Paul refers, namely, the Mosaic Law, specifically its requirement of circumcision (cf. Gen. 17:12-14). St. Paul specifies that Abraham was justified by faith before he was circumcised (Rom. 4:10-12). However, nowhere does the Apostle say that Abraham's faith operated alone in his justification. (In his personal translation of the New Testament into German, Martin Luther inserted the word allein ["alone"], though he knew it to be absent from the Greek text. When he was rebuked for having done so, he retorted, "If your Papist [i.e., Catholic] annoys you with the word [alone, as added to Rom. 3:28], tell him straightway: 'Dr. Martin Luther will have it so. Papist and ass are one and the same thing. Whoever will not have my translation, let him give it the go-by: the devil's thanks to him who censures it without my will and knowledge. Luther will have it so, and he is a doctor [i.e., teacher] above all the doctors in Popedom.'")

Moreover, writing to the Hebrews, St. Paul declares, "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance, and he went out, not knowing where he was to go" (Heb. 11:8; emphasis added). Hence, it is unscriptural to deduce an example of justification by faith alone (sola fide) from St. Paul's description of Abraham's justification. St. Paul declares that Abraham's hope co-operated with his faith in his process of justification (cf. Rom. 4:18) as he "grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God" (Rom. 4:20).

St. James confirms, "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered his son, Isaac, upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by works, and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness'; and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone" (Jas. 2:21-24). Several aspects of this passage are important: First, echoing St. Paul in Hebrews 11:8, St. James declares that Ab­raham's works of obedience were essential to his justification. Second, the only instance in which the phrase "faith alone" appears in the New Testament is in James 2:24, wherein St. James declares that man is justified by works and "not by faith alone." Third, the point at which "Abraham was called out to a place which he was to receive as an inheritance" (Heb. 11:8) was in Genesis 12, long before he was declared just in Genesis 15. Moreover, St. James informs us that Abraham was "justified by works when he offered his son, Isaac, upon the altar" (cf. Gen. 22). Hence, not only was Abraham justified initially in Genesis 12, and again in Genesis 15 (cf. Rom. 4), but his justification increased again when he offered Isaac upon the altar in Genesis 22! Thus, Abraham's justification was, as we see in St. Paul's account, a process of faith working itself out in charitable obedience. Each stage of obedience increased his justification. Doubtless his obedience resulted from his faith; but it was not faith alone that effected his justification, but faith and works of obedience in tandem (cf. Gal. 5:6). In Genesis 22, long after Abraham's faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, God promises Abraham, "Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will indeed bless you…. because you have obeyed My Voice" (Gen. 22:16-18; emphasis added).

Our Lord confirmed this correlation of works and justification: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the Will of My Father Who is in Heaven. On that Day [of Judgment], many will say to Me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And I will declare to them, 'I never knew you. Depart from Me, you evildoers'" (Mt. 7:21-23; emphasis added). "I tell you, on the Day of Judgment, men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words will you be justified, and by your words will you be condemned" (Mt. 12:36-37; emphasis added). The Greek word for "justified" here, dikaiosune, is the same term St. Paul used in Romans 3:28. We see clearly in these declarations of our Lord that justification is determined by works, including the works of speech. Christ says not, "By your faith as demonstrated by your words…," but rather, "By your words will you be justified, and by your words will you be condemned." One's salvation is determined on a constant, continual basis -- not by an isolated, irrevocable decision.

Throughout the New Testament we see that the theological virtues -- faith, hope, and love (or charity) -- co-operate for justification. Faith, of course, is necessary. However, we are assured that faith is useless without charity: "If I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing" (1 Cor. 13:2; emphasis added). Moreover, St. Paul writes in the same epistle, "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed [anathema, Greek]" (1 Cor. 16:22; emphasis added). Ironically, the Catholic Church is often accused of preaching "another gospel" and therefore of incurring the anathema St. Paul associated with apostasy (i.e., the abandonment of the True Faith [cf. Gal. 1:6-9]), because Catholics insist that charity must be united to faith for justification. Yet, as we have seen, St. Paul himself declared that he who does not love Christ is accursed. Of course, St. John reminds us, "If anyone says, 'I love God,' and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that he who loves God should love his brother also" (1 Jn. 4:20-21). Moreover, Christ Himself declared the greatest Commandment to be love for God, followed closely by love of one's neighbor as oneself (cf. Mt. 22:34-40, 19:16-19; Rom. 13:8-10).

"So faith, hope, love abide: these three. But the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13:13; emphasis added). These are called theological virtues because they are gifts of God operating in the justified man by man's response to God's initiating grace. Our Lord declared, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (Jn. 6:44). The very response man makes to God's enabling grace is itself a gift of grace whereby justification is increased. St. Paul writes to the Romans, "What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification" (Rom. 6:15-19; emphasis added). The Apostle links obedience with righteousness after declaring to the Romans, "Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1). St. Paul exhorts his disciples to make of their very bodies, their "members," "instruments of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13), that is, tools whereby righteousness is performed, by the power of God's grace.

This is incompatible with sola fide, which insists that righteousness is by faith alone and in no sense by works. Moreover, lest we conclude that justification is exclusively past while sanctification is ongoing, St. John writes, "Let the…righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy" (Rev. 22:11; emphasis added). The Greek is rendered literally, "the righteous [one] righteousness let him do still, and the holy [one] let him be hallowed still" (cf. Alfred Marshall, The Interlinear KJV-NIV Parallel New Testament in Greek and English[Zondervan, 1975]; emphasis added). Writing his First Epistle, using the same terms, St. John confirms, "If ye know that He [Christ] is righteous, ye know that every one that doeth righteousness is born of Him" (1 Jn. 2:29, KJV; cf. Marshall, op. cit.). This is why Christ warns His disciples, "He who endures to the end will be saved" (Mt. 10:22, 24:13; emphasis added).

The doctrine of sola fide does not admit a process of justification -- whereas Scripture describes justification as precisely that: progressive. Typically, advocates of sola fideemphasize the many verses that describe the past bestowal of justification, while they ignore or dismiss verses that indicate its present and future continuation. St. Paul writes to the Corinthians: "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18; emphasis added). Though, tragically, some translations, such as the King James Version, distort the sense of this statement of St. Paul by substituting "are saved" for "are being saved," the Greek text reads, "being saved" (cf. Marshall, op. cit.). It is significant that the Apostle includes himself as one who is being saved, not as one who considers his salvation a foregone conclusion, an irrevocable past event. Similarly, St. Paul declared to the Romans, "salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed" (Rom. 13:11; the Greek is rendered literally, "For now nearer [is] of us the salvation than when we believed" [cf. Marshall, op. cit.]). Likewise, St. Peter writes, "Like newborn babes, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up to salvation…" (1 Pet. 2:2). Each of these passages confirms, contrary to sola fide, that justification is a process of maturity through discipline, by God's grace. As St. Paul wrote to the Hebrews, "It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Heb. 12:7-11; emphasis added). This passage, too, indicates that righteousness progresses as "the obedience of faith" progresses (cf. Rom. 1:5, 6:16). As St. Paul proclaimed, "The doer of the law will be justified" (Rom. 2:13).

Significantly, St. Paul wrote of his own prospect of salvation in terms of a present fight, which he was concerned to pursue diligently: "Do you not know that in a race, all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:24-27).

If, then, as St. Paul taught, "the doer of the law will be justified" (Rom. 2:13), how are we to interpret Romans 3:28, the rally cry of the Protestant Reformation: "For we hold that a man is justified by faith apart from works of law"? The crux of the matter is the significance of the phrase "works of law" (erga namau, Greek). The context of this passage is thenullity and futility of the Mosaic Law with its 613 ceremonial and dietary stipulations (of which circumcision was central) that St. Paul regarded as unnecessary and even an obstacle to justification (cf. Gal. 5:3-4). However, there is another profound implication of St. Paul's dissertations on law that must be underscored: Even in the New Covenant, with its law of love of God and man, on which our Lord and St. Paul both insisted (cf. Mt. 22:34-40; Lk. 10:25-28; Rom. 13:8-10), man cannot be justified of his own accord, by the innate power of human strength. It was because the Jews sought to justify themselves of their own accord that God promulgated the Old Law through Moses -- to demonstrate to proud Israelites (and to us: cf. Gal. 6:16) the insufficiency of their human efforts, unaided by supernatural power, for justification. "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble" (Prov. 3:34; cf. 1 Pet. 5:5). On this basis, St. Augustine contended that both the Mosaic Law and Christ's Law of Love observed (per impossibile) by merely human strength were encompassed by St. Paul's phrase "works of the law" (erga namau, Greek). It is by faith -- a divine gift not of ourselves, lest any man should boast (cf. Eph. 2:8-9) -- as opposed to the works of unaided human nature typified by the Mosaic Law, that we "fulfill the just requirement of the Law" (cf. Rom. 8:3-4).

This is why St. Paul introduces his Letter to the Romans with an appeal to the Roman Christians for "the obedience of faith" (hypakoe pisteos, Greek) -- i.e., the obedience which faith is (cf. Rom. 16:26). To the mind of the Apostle, faith and obedience are inseparable, as they co-operate for man's justification: "For in Christ Jesus," the Apostle declares, "neither circumcision [the centerpiece of the Mosaic Law] nor un-circumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love" (Gal. 5:6). As the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians, "For neither circumcision counts for anything nor un-circumcision, but keeping the Commandments of God" (1 Cor. 7:19). In one sentence St. Paul encapsulated his doctrine of justification (i.e.,Christ's doctrine: cf. 1 Cor. 11:23) -- since the redemption (Christ's death and resurrection: cf. Rom. 4:24-25), the Mosaic Law is obsolete. However, by the power of Christ, in whom we can do all things (cf. Phil. 4:13), we observe Christ's commandments by "the obedience of faith," that we may "work out [our] salvation with fear and trembling: for God is at work in [us], both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13). Elaborating upon this premise, St. Paul taught, "[Christ] will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality He will give eternal life. But for those who are factious [i.e., divisive] and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek, for God shows no partiality" (Rom. 2:6-11; emphasis added).

We see, therefore, that our working out our salvation is not a matter of superfluous rewards -- mere icing on the cake, as it were -- but of the attainment of the gift of eternal life itself. For St. Paul there is no contradiction between man's "patience in well-doing" and God's bestowing "the free gift of eternal life"; both result from God's gracious will and, as such, they complement each other. Therefore, Protestantism's divorcing rewards from eternal life is a false dichotomy -- as St. Paul himself conjoins, rather than separates, the two aspects of salvation.

This premise is confirmed in our Lord's teaching on justification. Certainly He emphasizes faith. However, even His emphasis on faith is not that of simple belief, but rather of the obedience of faith. In the same chapter as the famous text of John 3:16 -- "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life" -- He declared, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; he who does not obey the Son shall not see Life, but the wrath of God rests upon him" (Jn. 3:36; emphasis added). St. Paul said the same of the disobedient (cf. Eph. 5:6; Rom. 2:8). When the disciples asked Jesus, "What must we do to be doing the works of God?" He replied, "This is the work of God: that you believe in Him whom He has sent" (Jn. 6:29; emphasis added). This declaration of our Lord has been cited often in favor of sola fide (faith alone), as though Christ were equating mere belief with the "work of God." However, this is an untenable conclusion. If Christ were equating the "work of God" with mere belief alone, He would have said, "To believe in the One whom God has sent is to be dispensed from work"; but, as we have seen, He said the opposite: "This is the work of God: that you believe in Him whom He has sent." Two aspects of this are instructive: first, that the faith that justifies is itself a work. We see this also in Christ's reply to the rich young man's question: "What must I do to be saved?" Our Lord replied not, "Simply believe in Me," but rather, "If you would enter Life, keep the Commandments" (cf. Mt. 19:16-22). Additionally, St. Paul refers to faith as a "sacrifice and service" (Phil. 2:16; cf. Rom. 14:16-18).

Further, this work -- i.e., faith -- is of God, as St. Paul says, it is not of man himself, not by merely human strength, "lest anyone should boast" (cf. Eph. 2:8-9).

Hence, to insist that justification is by faith alone is contrary to Holy Scripture, both as seen in the words of Christ and in SS Paul and James.

From these considerations we see the proper context in which to interpret the famous Pauline passage: "What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all; for I have already charged that all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin, as it is written: 'None is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have gone wrong; no one does good, not even one…'" (Rom. 3:10-12; emphasis added).

This passage of Paul is often cited to argue that justification is exclusively imputed (i.e., credited) righteousness, as "none is righteous, no, not one…no one does good…." Such a reading of Paul apart from the original context of the Old Testament passage he quotes demonstrates the danger of interpreting a passage in a sense foreign to its original, contextual sense. It is essential to recall that, left to ourselves, apart from God, "none is righteous, no, not one…no one does good." As the Catholic Church declared at the Second Council of Orange (A.D. 529): "as often as we do good, God operates in us and with us so that we may operate." However, proponents of sola fide contend that even the justified man is unrighteous except for Christ's legally imputed (i.e., credited) righteousness received by faith alone. Martin Luther's favored analogy was that of the "snow" of Christ's righteousness covering the "dung" of our sins -- although not managing to cleanse us of them. However, even Luther admitted, "All the justified could glory in their works, if they would attribute glory to God with respect to themselves. In this manner they would not be dung but ornaments."

Ironically, Holy Scripture describes the garments of the Bride of the Lamb, the Church (cf. Jn. 1:36; Eph. 5:22-33), as "fine linen, clean and white, the righteousness of saints" (Rev. 19:7-8; the Greek is rendered literally, "for the fine linen the righteous deeds of the saints is" [cf. Marshall, op. cit.]). This demonstrates (1) that the wedding garment of justification (cf. Mt. 22:11-14) incorporates good works performed by the power of grace; and (2) contrary to Protestant claims, the covering (as it is often described), or cloak, of righteousness isn't merely externally, legally credited, or imputed, to the justified man but corresponds to his deeds (cf. Rev. 22:14-15; Rom. 2:6-13; 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Moreover, Holy Scripture speaks both of God's covering sins (cf. Jas. 5:19-20), and of His washing away and cleansing them: "I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you…" (Ezek. 36:25-26). "And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on [Christ's] Name" (Acts 22:16; emphasis added). "You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God" (1 Cor. 6:11; emphasis added). This "washing of regeneration," as St. Paul described it (Ti. 3:5), is not merely a physical gesture but a supernatural, spiritual reality accomplished by physical means (cf. Mt. 9:1-8; Jn. 9:1-15).

Furthermore, the passage St. Paul quoted in Romans 3:23 is Psalm 14, in which David contrasted two distinct groups of people: the righteous who call upon the Lord, and the unrighteous evildoers who do not:


The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. The Lord looks down from Heaven upon the children of men, to see if there is any that act wisely, that seek after God. They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt; there is none that does good, no, not one.Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up My people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord? There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. (Ps. 14:1-5; emphasis added)
In his famous Miserere, David acknowledges God's cleansing him of sin, writing, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love; according to Thy abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!… Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow" (Ps. 51 [50, Douay]:3-4,9; emphasis added). Again we see the ironic error of Luther's doctrine: Scripture itself attests that justification involves, not a merely imputed snow job, but a truly effective cleansing of sin, a participation in Christ's divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4; Gal. 3:27), rendering us "whiter than snow" (cf. Rev. 21:22-27).

Thus, from the very context of the passage St. Paul quotes in Romans 3:10-23, we see it is an error to conclude that all men without exception are mere sinners, never doing good nor seeking after God. The Davidic Psalm itself acknowledges the distinction between the unrighteous and the righteous. Moreover, even in the Old Testament several people were acknowledged to be righteous, David himself among them, the man after God's Heart (cf. 1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). We see that Lot was considered righteous before God (cf. Gen. 19:29; 2 Pet. 2:7-9); as was Job (cf. Job 1:1); as were Abel and Zechariah (cf. 2 Chron. 24:21; Mt. 23:35). In general, "The prayer of the righteous man avails much" (Jas. 5:16). As St. Paul himself declared: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one Man's obedience, many will be made righteous" (Rom. 5:19; emphasis added). Just as Adam's sin rendered all men actually mortal -- not merely legally considered such -- so, as St. Paul notes, through Christ "many will be made righteous." This righteousness is not a stagnant, merely legal credit to the soul of the justified, but a metaphysical share in the divine nature (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3-4; Gal. 3:27), which increases or decreases in proportion to the response of man (cf. Rom. 6:16; 2 Cor. 4:16; Rev. 2:5,7). This results either in man's falling away and consequent condemnation (cf. 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 9:24-27; Heb. 10:35-39; 1 Jn. 5:16-17), or in his eternal salvation (cf. Mt. 10:22, 24:13; Mk. 8:35).


(Republished with permission from Bryan J.P. Gesinger)

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Our Lady of Guadalupe, Feast Day December 12

Photograph of image by Bill Bell
Of the many, many apparitions of the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Guadalupe is one of the most famous.  The message of Our Lady of Guadalupe in 1531 was a pro-life one.  After identifying herself to Juan Diego as the Blessed Mother of the one true God, creator of the universe (of course, she was referring to Jesus Christ, God the Son), she asked that a church be built on the site where she appeared.  The hill where she met St. Juan had once been the site of human sacrifices to the pagan gods.  The Blessed Mother asked that the chapel be built so that those who came there would believe in the one, true God, the God of Life.

Mary's Message to Juan:

"Dear little son, I love you. I want you to know who I am.
I am the Virgin Mary, Mother of the one true God, of Him who gives life.
He is Lord and Creator of heaven and of earth.
I desire that there be built a temple at this place where I want to manifest Him,
make him known, give Him to all people
through my love, my compassion, my help, and my protection.
I truly am your merciful Mother, your Mother
and the Mother of all who dwell in this land, and of all mankind,
of all those who love me, of those who cry to me,
and of those who seek and place their trust in me.
Here I shall listen to their weeping and their sorrows.
I shall take them all to my heart, and I shall cure their many sufferings,
afflictions, and sorrows.
So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Lord Bishop all that you have seen and heard."

18th c. painting of God, the Father
"painting" the image on the tilma
The bishop asked for a sign from the Lady because he did not believe St. Juan at first.  The Lady told St. Juan, in his native tongue, to gather the roses on the hill.  He was surprised to see the roses but obeyed the lady and gathered them in his tilma, a sort of cloak woven from certain grasses.  When he went back to the bishop and open his tilma, the roses tumbled out onto the floor revealing the miraculous image of Our Lady on the tilma.  Of course, the bishop believed him then.  A church was built on the spot soon afterward.  Mary appeared as a young woman of Aztec decent, speaking their language. The conversion of millions of native Mexicans were credited to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Some interesting facts about the appearance:
1) The original tilma worn by St. Juan Diego is still intact and on display in the basilica.  The only specimen of its kind that is over 500 years old.

2) Scientific studies show that the image is painted by "brushes not of this world." (Pope Blessed Pius XII)

Close up of the face of
Our Lady of Guadalupe
3) Scientific studies also show that microscopic images of the persons present in 1531 appear inside the eyes of the image.  The bishop and several others can be seen there. 

4) The Castillian roses that grew on Tepeyac Hill that day were not native to Mexico and did not normally grow in December.  Roses are a sign associated with the Blessed Virgin in several of her apparitions (for instance, the roses on her feet at Lourdes, France, in 1858).

5) A drawing of the image of Our Lady on a document dated to 1540 was discovered in 1995, proving the image to date back to that date.  The oldest written document, a sermon mentioning the image, dates to 1556.

6) Our Lady of Guadalupe holds the titles:  Patroness of the Americas, Empress of Latin America, Queen of Mexico, and Patroness of the Unborn

Readings for the Daily Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe:

Painting of Our Lady's appearance to
St. Juan Diego
First Reading:
Sing and rejoice, O daughter Zion!
See, I am coming to dwell among you, says the LORD.
Many nations shall join themselves to the LORD on that day,
and they shall be his people,
and he will dwell among you,
and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.
The LORD will possess Judah as his portion in the holy land,
and he will again choose Jerusalem.
Silence, all mankind, in the presence of the LORD!
For he stirs forth from his holy dwelling.
Zech 2:14-17

Responsorial Psalm Jdt 13:18bcde, 19
R. (15:9d) You are the highest honor of our race.
Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High God,
above all the women on earth;
and blessed be the LORD God,
the creator of heaven and earth.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.
Your deed of hope will never be forgotten
by those who tell of the might of God.
R. You are the highest honor of our race.
 
Gospel Lk 1:26-38
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
"Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel,
"How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply,
"The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her.
 
"From Mary we learn to surrender to God's will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust when all hope is gone. From Mary we learn to trust her Son and Christ the Son of God."

Further Reading:
Catholic Online Article on Our Lady of Guadalupe with several sources linked


Saturday, December 08, 2012

Feast of the Immaculate Conception


Immaculate Conception
Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1678
Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. If you are Catholic and didn't go to Mass--YOU'RE WRONG. There is a misconception about this particular solemnity. It is the only Holy Day of Obligation that is not moved to Sunday, even if is on a Saturday or Monday. Why? She is the Patron of the United States, making this day the Patronal Feast of the United States. It is not up to the local bishop; it is still a Holy Day of Obligation, no matter what. 

However, the homily at Mass today was quite wonderful. All about how Mary was conceived in the usual manner but given the gift of grace from her first moment of creation. She was conceived without Original Sin on her soul because God wanted her to be the perfect (Immaculate) vessel from which would be born the Son of God, the Savior of the world. God loved her and blessed her from that first moment.

What a wonderful grace, indeed!! "Hail, full of grace!" said the angel, "The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" Luke chapter one tells us that the angel declared her Immaculate state. And, if you believe the words of Revelation, it is stated clearly there also. 19 Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail.1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (chs 11&12 NJB)


Immaculate Conception
Peter Paul Rubens, 1628
Now, before any readers get there panties in a bunch, yes this is Church teaching. It is one of the earliest Traditions of the Church--that John did indeed refer to Mary with these words. Are there more than one meaning to these words? Of course, like many, many other prophecies and visions in the Bible, there is more than one meaning. However, the fact that this symbolizes or visualizes Mary is one of those meanings. In the next verses, it talks about the woman and her child being pursued by the dragon. I find it ironic that the child, son, man is almost universally said to Jesus by Christians, but that the woman is cannot be Mary. Huh??? That doesn't even make logical sense. Reading chapter 12 in light of Luke and Genesis gives us a pretty darned clear picture of Mary.

Also, when we read John chapter 19 we see how Jesus gave His mother to John. "Behold your mother. Woman behold your son." Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of the Apostle and by extension of the mother of his brothers and sisters. Note what it says in Revelation: 17 Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus. Why was the dragon so enraged with the woman? Maybe, just maybe, because the Church teaching is correct--Mary was untouched by the sin that he had helped bring into the world (Original Sin). Maybe because he could not corrupt her (Mary's personal sinlessness). The Church Traditions about Mary, which date back to the first century of the Church, might just have some meaning after all, eh? This is why we call her our mother--Jesus gave His mother to be ours ("on the rest of her children, who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus"). When looked at in the proper light, the light of Scripture and Tradition, it is pretty clear!


Immaculate Conception
Francisco Pacheco, 17th c.
I saw something on facebook today that I thought was pretty appropriate. It said (paraphrasing from memory): If you think the Catholic Church spends too much time on Mary, think about the fact that Jesus spent ten times more time with His mother than with His Apostles.
Think about it.

Some Reading and Resources for those interested:
*National Catholic Register Article, "8 Things You Need to Know About the Immaculate Conception" by Jimmy Akin.
*The Immaculate Conception (An Explanation of the Dogma) New Advent/Catholic Encyclopedia
*The Immaculate Conception explained Just for Catholics
*The Immaculate Conception, devotional Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Happy St. Nicholas Day!


Feast Day - December 6 

SAINT NICHOLAS 
Bishop and Confessor

DOUBLE / WHITE
The great popularity of St. Nicholas in both the East and the West is proved by the numerous churches dedicated to him and the frequent use of Nicholas as a Christian name. Yet all that we know for certain about him is that he was made archbishop of Myra in Asia Minor, where he died in the year 324 A.D. Many of the legends concerning St. Nicholas had to do with his abounding charity and extraordinary miracles, and particularly his Christ-like love for children, so that in Catholic countries he is said to make an annual visit on his feast day to bring presents to little ones.

INTROIT Eccli. 45:30
The Lord established a covenant of peace with him, and made him a prince, that the dignity of priesthood should be his forever.
Ps. 131:1 O Lord, remember David and all his meekness.
V. Glory be . . .

COLLECT
O God, You glorified the holy bishop Nicholas by working countless miracles through him. Grant that we may be spared from the flames of hell by his merits and prayers. Through Our Lord . . .

Commemoration of preceding Sunday

EPISTLE Heb. 13:7-17
Brethren: Remember your prelates who have spoken the word of God to you: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation, Jesus Christ, yesterday, and today: and the same for ever. Be not led away with various and strange doctrines. For it is best that the heart be established with grace, not with meats: which have not profited those that walk in them. We have an altar whereof they have no power to eat who serve the tabernacle. For the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the holies by the high priest for sin are burned without the camp. Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people by his own blood, suffered without the gate. Let us go forth therefore to him without the camp, bearing his reproach. For, we have not here a lasting city: but we seek one that is to come. By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise always to God, that is to say, the fruit of lips confessing to his name. And do not forget to do good and to impart: for by such sacrifices God's favour is obtained. Obey your prelates and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls.

GRADUAL Ps. 88:21-23
I have found David, My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, that My hand may help him and My arm strengthen him.
V. The enemy shall have no advantage over him, nor shall the son of iniquity have power to hurt him.

Alleluia, alleluia! V. Ps. 91:13
The just man shall flourish like the palm tree; he shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon.
Alleluia!

GOSPEL Matt. 25:14-23
At that time, Jesus spoke this parable to His disciples, "A man going into a far country called his servants and delivered to them his goods; And to one he gave five talents, and to another two, and to another one, to every one according to his proper ability: and immediately he took his journey. And he that had received the five talents went his way and traded with the same and gained other five. And in like manner he that had received the two gained other two. But he that had received the one, going his way, digged into the earth and hid his lord's money. But after a long time the lord of those servants came and reckoned with them. And he that had received the five talents coming, brought other five talents, saying: 'Lord, thou didst deliver to me five talents. Behold I have gained other five over and above.' His lord said to him: 'Well done, good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' And he also that had received the two talents came and said: 'Lord, thou deliverest two talents to me. Behold I have gained other two.' His lord said to him: 'Well done, good and faithful servant: because thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will place thee over many things. Enter thou into the joy of thy lord.' " 

(Source) 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

St. Nicholas to Santa Claus

1935 Coca Cola ad
Each year I like to post my appeal that Santa Claus is REAL!  The spirit of giving in St. Nicholas, whose name is where we get "Santa Claus" - IS the REAL spirit of Christmas we see and participate in on Christmas Day.   The "real" Santa Claus is not the commercialized version made popular by early Coca-Cola advertisements and later "Christmas Specials" on TV, though there is a relationship even there.  

One of my fondest memories of Christmas TV shows as a child is "A Charlie Brown Christmas" - wherein we get the REAL Christmas story through his friend Linus, his translation is a bit off at the end, but I digress.  The point I want to stress is  again, the "giving spirit" of "Santa Claus" is truly the spirit of St. Nicolas, Bishop of Myra.  When I am asked, "Do you believe in Santa Claus?"  I answer, "Yes!"  And that allows me to get into a discussion of St. Nicolas.

Tomorrow is the Feast of St. Nicholas.  A few years back I compiled an article with history and traditions of St. Nicholas Day.  One tradition our family practices is a St. Nicholas Day present.  My wife and I made sure we had some small gift for the kids every December 6th.  

You can see this and several other articles posted here on CathApol by clicking on the St. Nick label.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

What Do the Candles Mean in the Advent Wreath?

What do the candles mean for the different weeks of Advent?

Well, first off - the 4 candles are representative of the 4000 years between Adam and Eve and the First Coming of Jesus Christ, each candle representing 1000 years.   They are symbolic of the time of anticipation of the Messiah to come and redeem the world from sin.

Now, for each candle:

WEEK 1 - PURPLE

HOPE is the theme.  As we begin the Liturgical Year, our first lessons are about the hope of the Second Coming of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  
EPISTLE (Rom 13. 11-14)
A reading from the Epistle of the blessed apostle Paul to the Romans. Brethren, knowing the time, that it is now the hour for us to rise from sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we believed. The night is past, and the day is at hand; let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and impurities, not in contention and envy; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ.


GOSPEL: (Luke 21. 25-33)
Continuation of the Holy Gospel according to Saint Luke.
At that time, Jesus said to His disciples: "There shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, by reason of the confusion of the roaring of the sea and of the waves: men withering away for fear and expectation of what shall come upon the whole world. For the powers of heaven shall be moved; and then they shall see the Son of man coming in a cloud with great power and majesty. But when these things begin to come to pass, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is at hand." And He spoke to them a similitude: "See the fig tree, and all the trees; when they now shoot forth their fruit, you know that summer is nigh; so you also, when you shall see these things come to pass, know that the kingdom of God is at hand. Amen I say to you, this generation shall not pass away till all things be fulfilled. Heaven and earth shall pass away, but My words shall not pass away."

WEEK 2 - PURPLE

FAITH is the theme. The Day of the Lord is at hand!  Have faith that He is coming again!  Make straight the way of the Lord!
EPISTLE (Rom. 15:4-13)
Brethren: For what things soever were written were written for our learning: that, through patience and the comfort of the scriptures, we might have hope. Now the God of patience and of comfort grant you to be of one mind, one towards another, according to Jesus Christ: That with one mind and with one mouth you may glorify God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, receive one another, as Christ also hath received you, unto the honour of God. For I say that Christ Jesus was minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: But that the Gentiles are to glorify God for his mercy, as it is written: "Therefore will I confess to thee, O Lord, among the Gentiles and will sing to thy name." And again he saith: "Rejoice ye Gentiles, with his people." And again: "Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles: and magnify him, all ye people." And again, Isaias saith: "There shall be a root of Jesse; and he that shall rise up to rule the Gentiles, in him the Gentiles shall hope." Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing: that you may abound in hope and in the power of the Holy Ghost. 


GOSPEL (Matt. 11:2-10)
At that time, when John had heard in prison the works of Christ: sending two of his disciples he said to him: "Art thou he that art to come, or look we for another?" And Jesus making answer said to them: "Go and relate to John what you have heard and seen. The blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise again, the poor have the gospel preached to them. And blessed is he that shall not be scandalized in me." 
And when they went their way, Jesus began to say to the multitudes concerning John: "What went you out into the desert to see? a reed shaken with the wind? But what went you out to see? a man clothed in soft garments? Behold they that are clothed in soft garments, are in the houses of kings. But what went you out to see? A prophet? Yea I tell you, and more than a prophet. For this is he of whom it is written: 'Behold I send my angel before my face, who shall prepare thy way before thee.' "

WEEK 3 - ROSE (PINK)

JOY is the theme.  Gaudete Sunday!  We're half way through Advent and today we celebrate the anticipated Messiah!
EPISTLE (Philipp. 4:4-7)
Brethren: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice. Let your moderation be known to all men. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety, but in every prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your petitions be made known to God. And may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord.


GOSPEL (John 1:19-28)
At that time, when the Jews sent from Jerusalem priests and Levites to him, to ask him: "Who art thou?" And he confessed and did not deny: and he confessed: "I am not the Christ." And they asked him: "What then? Art thou Elias?" And he said: "I am not." "Art thou the prophet? And he answered: "No." They said therefore unto him: "Who art thou, that we may give an answer to them that sent us? What sayest thou of thyself?" He said: "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Isaias." And they that were sent were of the Pharisees. And they asked him and said to him: "Why then dost thou baptize, if thou be not Christ, nor Elias, nor the prophet?" John answered them, saying: "I baptize with water: but there hath stood one in the midst of you, whom you know not. The same is he that shall come after me, who is preferred before me: the latchet of whose shoe I am not worthy to loose." These things were done in Bethania, beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

WEEK 4 - PURPLE

LOVE/CHARITY is the theme.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish.  John 3:16.  The celebration of the ChristMass is almost upon us!

EPISTLE (I Cor. 4:1-5)
Brethren: Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ and the dispensers of the mysteries of God. Here now it is required among the dispensers that a man be found faithful. But to me it is a very small thing to be judged by you or by man's day. But neither do I judge my own self. For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore, judge not before the time: until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts. And then shall every man have praise from God.

GOSPEL (Luke 3:1-6)
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and Philip his brother tetrarch of Iturea and the country of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilina: Under the high priests Anna and Caiphas: the word of the Lord was made unto John, the son of Zachary, in the desert. And he came into all the country about the Jordan, preaching the baptism of penance for the remission of sins. As it was written in the book of the sayings of Isaias the prophet: "A voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways plain. And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.


(The readings above are according to the Extraordinary Rite).

The Christ Mass!  WHITE

In some traditions the Advent Wreath also includes a fifth candle, a white one, also called the "Christ Candle" for that reason.  The Christ Candle is lit on Christmas Day.  Also some traditions change out the four colored candles for the Christ Mass and put in all white ones, for the same reason.

See also:
http://cathapol.blogspot.com/2009/12/history-of-advent-wreath.html

Miracles in the Early Church part 2




How are you to decide who is teaching the truth when competing versions are being circulated?  Who can decide whether a prophet is true or false?  Well, the answer to that question is pretty straightforward:  It’s those who are placed in the ordinary capacity as God’s teachers.

 

To understand how this came to be, we need to look back at John 21:15-17

 

Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."

A second time Jesus said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."

A third time Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" and so he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!" Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.”

 

“Feed my sheep.”  These words are full of profound meaning.  It has been too little commented upon, but when Jesus made the simple statement “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), He made one of His most startling claims to divinity.  Every Jew in Palestine would have been familiar with this ancient prophetic statement.

 

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken.  "I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick… I will judge each of my sheep and separate the good from the bad.”  (Eze 34:15, 16, 22-24)

 

It was in this context that we find Jesus, the humble carpenter, saying :

 

I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.  When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.  The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd …And I am willing to die for them… they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”  (John 10:14-16)

 

But what happens to the flock once the shepherd returns to the Father? The answer, according to the testimony of the early Church, lies in these words, spoken by the Good Shepherd to Simon Peter, representative of a simple band of Galilean fishermen:    Feed my sheep.”

 

Jesus gave Peter, and by extension the other Apostles, the commission of feeding the sheep, to be their shepherd, and they in turn chose other men to continue this vocation (2 Tim 2:2).  But what of those who taught falsehoods?  Simon Magus is believed to be the founder of the ancient heresy called Gnosticism, Christianity’s oldest and most obstinate rival.  A former disciple of Philip the evangelist, Simon apostatized to become the first person in recorded history to teach falsehood in the holy name of Jesus. 

 

But how would ordinary believers have reacted to a second set of “Christian” apostles preaching on their streets?  Would it have been obvious that there was a wolf under the sheepskin?  Not necessarily because even though Jesus had said that we would know them by their fruits, by their miracles, we know that some produced counterfeit fruits.  Historical records tell us that Simon Magus had many “miracles” to his credit and a large number of converts as well.  The Apostle Paul seems to be addressing this very dilemma when he wrote: “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:15)

 

The predicament was very real, if the prospective shepherds all look like angels how are those seeking Truth to choose between them?  How on earth does a common Roman laymen in AD 50 – only just hearing of Jesus for the first time – supposed to know which are His true disciples and which the false?  Do not underestimate this problem, we may casually imagine that these early believers had only to pull out their pocket New Testament to send these dangerous pretenders packing, tails between their legs.  This was completely impossible; the Church had been preaching the gospel for at least 10 years before a single line of the New Testament was written.  She had been doing these things for over fifty years before the final line was completed.  And even then some may have been introduced to Matthew’s Gospel and perhaps one or two letters from Paul – but even these would have been circulating as loose individual works; over 300 years would pass before they ever came to be bound together in one authoritative canon that today we call the Bible.

 

The solution is quite simple.  When confronted with two conflicting stories, all one needed to do was find the “…man [that] was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Mat 26:71).  He had simply to ask to traditional question:  Which men had been with Jesus?  That fact alone, once truly established, banished all doubt. 

 

Jesus Christ appointed twelve apostles to teach His doctrines and exercise His authority after He ascended into heaven (Matt 28:16-20).  He gave them specific authority to speak and teach what He taught (Mat 18:15-17, Eph 2:19-20, 1 Thess 4:2, 2 Pet 3:2), and He warned all of His followers of the consequences of private teaching outside of the Church (Matt 18:16-17, 1 Cor 5:5, 1 Tim 2:20, 2 Pet 1:20-21).  Most importantly, however, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles in truth (John 14:16-17), which would distinguish them from the false prophets who would later introduce false doctrines and heresies (2 Pet 2:1).  This is the reason why St Paul described the Church as the ‘pillar and foundation of truth’ (1 Tim 3:15), and not the bible which can be twisted by the untaught and unstable (2 Pet 3:16).  The only way that any group can claim to have the truth is if they teach what the Apostles taught, either written or oral (2 Thess 2:15).

 

Jesus established His Church in an hierarchical structure.  If Jesus’ words were not meant eternally and were to be understood simply in His time, then the authority of the Apostles which Christ gave to them would have died with the last Apostle.  This would leave the Church without leadership and in total confusion when serious doctrinal questions and problems occurred (no point in relying on Scripture since many of the heretics used Scripture to defend their positions.)  The other option, the much more likely and divinely consistent one, is that the Apostles would choose successors, passing on to them what they learned from the Lord, and in turn giving them not only the authority to teach but also the divine promise to correctly interpret God’s written and inspired word when speaking for the whole Church as a group in communion with the one directly appointed to lead Jesus’ Church, Peter and then his successors which we call ‘Pope’.

 

So why so few miracles through today’s teachers of the faith?  Because so long as one can find who are the rightful successors of the Apostles there is no need of miracles to determine what is the Truth.  The Truth is readily found in the rightful successors because Jesus promised them that they would be lead into ALL truth (John 16:13)