December 28, 2018

A rosary surrounding an image of Mary.
Praying to Mary and other saints is still part of being Catholic.

The Rosary is a lovely prayer, which I loved from a distance for most of my life but have returned to recently. This post is an introduction to a series of posts that includes one for each set of Mysteries.

Table of Contents with links to each post in the series

  1. Introduction (below)
  2. The Joyful Mysteries
  3. The Luminous Mysteries
  4. The Sorrowful Mysteries
  5. The Glorious Mysteries

I grew up in a family of regular Rosary prayers—every day in May and October. But I stopped praying this prayer regularly when I left that Catholic home to go to the seminary.

Those were days of heady change in the Church. Much needed change, but I was less concerned than I needed to be about the Church’s traditions. Devotion to Mary was one of those traditions.  

There was arrogance. I knew about, but cared too little for, the importance Mary held for a large part of the Church. This included the poor and the non-white, especially the poorer South of the globe. That included our neighbors in Latin America, for whom I thought I harbored great concern.  

There was also the ecumenical movement. I was not confused by Protestant claims that Catholics worship the saints, but I thought the Church’s prayer life exaggerated the saints and Mary. Protestants, I thought, could teach me about relating directly to God. The Rosary seemed like a relic in a bad sense of the word. 

Differing theologies of the saints 

My wife and I now own a house that is as close to our small downtown as you can get in Springfield, Minnesota. It was an ideal location for a public outdoor Rosary. We were praying the Rosary there with other members of St. Raphael’s Parish, and the pastor of the Lutheran Church walked by on his way to his home across the street. He greeted us cordially and then said, “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t join you.” 

Another Lutheran pastor explained to me why Lutherans don’t pray to saints or Mary. He said most Lutherans feel pretty much the same as Catholic about those who have died. They imagine them up in heaven looking down on and being concerned about their loved ones on earth. He said that’s not correct Lutheran theology. Those who have died are “asleep in the Lord,” according to Lutheran teaching. Consciousness, at least wakeful consciousness, for them must wait for the fulfillment of time, when Christ comes and the dead are raised bodily.  

It’s a way of stating a very Christian idea – bodies are important. Philosophically, human souls do not exist without a material embodiment. A philosophy professor explained the Catholic view. Souls do indeed need bodies, those in heaven as well as those on earth. We are not Platonists in that sense. In heaven God supplies a kind of substitute material. I suppose that would have to be true even if those souls are “asleep.” And if it is true, then they could as easily be awake, and it does make sense to pray to them. 

Returning to the Rosary 

I knew all the mysteries of the Rosary, Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious, by heart from childhood. I rejoiced when Pope Saint John Paul II added a fourth set. The Luminous Mysteries filled in the neglected space between Jesus’ childhood and passion. But I still didn’t say the Rosary much. I had a hard time getting through such a long prayer without suffering boredom or complete loss of focus. 

In the past year two things changed that for me. They work, paradoxically, by making the prayer even longer. First, a relaxation breathing procedure adds four seconds between each prayer and makes the whole more meditative. Second, relevant Scripture verses, which I recite not just once but three times each decade keep bringing my wandering mind back into focus. 

Meditative breathing for a meditative prayer 

I always thought of the Rosary, with its steady repetitions, as one way Catholics connect with Eastern religions with their traditions of meditative and repetitive prayer. So a meditative breathing technique that I picked up from an online singing coach seemed a natural fit. The technique, in short, is to breathe in deep and slow and breathe out twice as slowly. It’s supposed to quiet the “fight or flight” nervous system and activate a more peaceful accepting attitude.  

Applying it to the Rosary, I breathe in to a count of four before each prayer. Then I say the prayer on that one breath, quietly forming all the words with my lip.. (The Our Fathers get two breaths.) This helps me let go and after a while I hardly notice the passage of time. I’m usually surprised when the prayer nears its end. 

Using Scripture to focus 

I am not a visual thinker so my imagination isn’t much help when it comes to focusing on the mysteries. I like the words of Scripture, but to be useful these need to happen more than once per decade. It works for me to recite a Scripture passage after naming the mystery and after the third and seventh Hail Mary. Several “Scriptural Rosaries” with biblical texts for each of the mysteries are available, but I have made my own selections.  

There’s a lot to think about in the mysteries of the Rosary, but thinking a lot doesn’t go well with a meditative prayer. I’ll do some thinking, investigating, and questioning about the mysteries in future posts. I plan on the Joyful Mysteries while it’s still Christmas Season, Luminous Mysteries during Ordinary Time, Sorrowful Mysteries in Lent, and Glorious Mysteries after Easter.

Image credit: Living Bread Radio via Google Images

April 23, 2019

A woman in dazzling white, stands on the moon and wears a crown of 12 stars.
The Glorious Mysteries end with the Coronation of Mary. Is this mystery a symbol of the final victory of Christ and the People of God? Will we all wear starry crowns?

Praying the Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary on Holy Saturday was a little premature, but it seemed the right thing to do. It also reminded me to write this post. 

Thinking back over the series of posts on the mysteries of the Rosary and reviewing the Scriptures these mysteries call up, I realize I have some favorites: 

  • Joyful Mysteries. The favorite has to be Mary’s Magnificat at the Visitation. 
  • Luminous Mysteries. Here it’s the Proclamation of the Kingdom — “This is the time of fulfillment. “
  • Sorrowful Mysteries. Jesus carries the cross and my crosses become so much lighter: “Come to me, all who labor and are burdened….” 

For the Glorious Mysteries I have too many favorites.  

The missing mystery 

I do have one complaint about this set of mysteries. The traditional mysteries were missing most of Jesus’ life until Pope John Paul II added the Luminous Mysteries. But there’s still something missing, and it belongs with the Glorious Mysteries. We pray for it every time we say the Our Father: “Thy kingdom come.” It’s the object of all our hopes. It’s the prayer at the very end of the last book of the Bible: Come, Lord Jesus. That’s a pretty  big omission. 

My dad, as he was getting on toward the end of his life, made this confession of faith before us, his son and daughters: 

When I was younger (he said), I never thought about heaven. Now I think about it practically all the time. 

This was a man who never separated his faith from his life in the world. That’s an example I try to follow. So I find I can’t separate my belief in heaven from my commitment to this world. This world, after all, is the place to which Jesus will return when God has finally made all things new.  

The Glorious Mysteries of the Rosary are all about making the world new. They just don’t name the final stage. I didn’t have vocabulary to name it either in my earlier days of learning about the faith. The right words have more recently come into prominence. The Second Coming of Jesus is the Parousia (Greek for presence). That will happen at the Eschaton, the end of this age of the Church. We live in the age between Resurrection and Eschaton. Eschatology is the recently prominent branch of theology that tries to fathom this great Christian hope. 

The First Glorious Mystery, The Resurrection 

A young man, clothed in white, said to the three women at Jesus’ tomb, “Do not be amazed! You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised; he is not here; but he is going before you to Galilee.” (Mark 16:6-7)  

Different Gospels tell the Resurrection story differently. Only a very literal modern age worries about conflicting details when the event itself is beyond what human minds can grasp. Here Mark seems to be using Galilee as a symbol for the work in this world Jesus expects of his followers. Galilee is where Jesus began his own work. 

Other Bible texts for the Glorious Mysteries: 

I am the Resurrection and the Life. (John 11:25) 

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24) 

The Second Glorious Mystery, The Ascension 

Two men dressed in white garments said, “Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” (Acts 1:11) 

Galilee comes into the picture here too. It names what these men are, creatures of earth; and Galilee would be one of earth’s least heaven-like places. We are all from Galilee, and we have work to do. 

 The Galileans may be thinking of what they have lost and if they’ll ever get it back, but what was truly theirs they still have, as the next mystery will show – Jesus’ Spirit among them. 

John’s account of the Last Supper pictures the apostles confused about the way to go. Jesus says they already know the way: 

I am the way and the truth and the life. (John 14:6) 

The Third Glorious Mystery, the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles 

Through the prophet Joel, God says, “I will pour out my spirit upon all humankind. (Joel 3:1) 

Luke’s Acts of the Apostles isn’t clear about who exactly was in the room when the Holy Spirit came down in wind and fire. The twelve apostles certainly, including Matthias, chosen to replace Judas. But probably there were women there, too, including Jesus’ mother, and the ones called simply Jesus’ brothers. This group symbolizes all of us.  

Throughout the Old Testament and in the story of Jesus, when something new happens we see the Holy Spirit or something that has come to symbolize the Holy Spirit. Wind at the creation, a dove after the Flood, wind and fire as the Israelites escape slavery in Egypt. Again, in the New Testament: the Spirit overshadowing Mary at the Annunciation, the dove at Jesus’ baptism, and now fire and wind as the Church is born. 

See, I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? In the desert I make a way, in the wasteland, rivers. (Isaiah 43:19) 

The Fourth Glorious Mystery, the Assumption 

Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. (Song of Songs 2:10-11) 

I don’t understand why the Assumption of Mary bodily into heaven is a doctrine of the Catholic Church. It’s connected to another puzzling doctrine, the Immaculate Conception. Mary’s freedom from the stain of Original Sin makes it obvious that there could be no bodily decay for her. But Original Sin is another puzzle. 

On the other hand, there could hardly be a doctrine better attested by the evidence than Original Sin. I don’t understand how sin could enter God’s entirely good world or why evil is usually easier than good and often more attractive. But it’s not because of how the world was built. Something obviously happened. And now I have to struggle with moral entropy. 

For a glorified body there’s no entropy at all. The doctrine of the Assumption means at least this much: Bodies are beautiful, and God wants to share eternity with them. 

The Fifth Glorious Mystery, the Coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven 

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) 

Here is where the Parousia should be, and instead we have a coronation. It’s not even a doctrine of the Catholic Church, and not exactly in the Bible, either. It’s easy to see the woman with the crown of stars as Mary, Queen of Heaven, but John, the apocalyptic writer, more likely saw her as the People of God.  

Perhaps there is no disagreement here. The Catechism of the Catholic Church calls Mary “Eschatological Icon of the Church.”  

In her [Mary] we contemplate what the Church already is in her [the Church’s] mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey. (#972) 

Mary and the Church both bring Christ to the world. Catholics call Mary and the Church their mother. The old spiritual “Down in the River to Pray” tells about the ones who will “wear the starry crown.” It’s all of us, brothers, sisters, sinners.  

It’s not the Parousia by name, but just maybe the Coronation of Mary Queen of Heaven has a bit of eschatological flavor to it. 

Image credit: Pinterest via Google Images

September 14, 2018

Symbols of the Ember Days for each season of the year.

This is a time of prayer for creation. (See this post on the World Day of Prayer for Creation.) Perhaps not coincidentally, it is also the time of the Fall Ember Days. Ember Days were a thing in the Church before Vatican II. Not so much anymore. We observed them on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at various times during the year. Next week is Ember Week. September 18, 20, and 21 are the Ember Days.

Note that it’s the terrestrial, not the liturgical, year that counts here. Ember Days are close to the earth. Ancient Rome celebrated three of these groups of three days to honor grain harvest (summer), vintage (Fall), and seed time (winter). The Church continued the tradition for the benefit of converts from Paganism and later added a fourth set for spring.

Ember Days and care for creation

Ember Days observance connects well with care for the earth. Traditionally one prayed, fasted (no food between meals) and half-abstained (meat allowed at one meal). The Catholic Encyclopedia says the purpose of Ember Days is

to thank God for the gifts of nature, to teach [people] to make use of them in moderation, and to assist the needy.

Making use of the gifts of nature in moderation is exactly the prescription of environmentalists for the health of the planet. Imagine three days in which Catholics commit publicly to moderate their consumption of earth’s resources, especially of meat. The reduction of our collective carbon footprint would be considerable and the witness value also.

The Catholic bishops of Australia say,

Ember Days in the 21st century will need to focus on the environment, climate change, and our stewardship of the world’s resources. They will help us connect our intercession for favourable conditions with a conversion of heart in relation to our care of the earth.

Season or days? What’s appropriate to honor creation?

Several church leaders in the past few years have called the faithful to observe a month-long Season of Creation. It would begin on September 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and end on October 4, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, patron of ecologists. The Catholic Bishops of the Philippines in 2003, the Third European Ecumenical Assembly in Sibiu in 2007 and the World Council of Churches in 2008 have made such proposals

Still there is little to no movement in the Church to add a “Season of Creation” to the Church’s Liturgical Year. I think that’s for good reasons. Actually, the traditional year does address the salvation of the world God made. In particular:

  • The season of Advent looks forward to the restoration of creation.
  • Christmas celebrates the joining of the divine with creation.
  • Easter proclaims the story of creation and the wedding of heaven and earth.
  • Every Sunday remembers and imitates God’s rest at the completion of the good work of creation.

The mysteries of the Liturgical Year proclaim God’s work of saving the world, not just humans out of the world. The Bible does not present creation as a work of God separate from salvation. The non-human world and humanity are not saved separately but in one saving act.

More Ember Days

Every season is a season of creation. Special days, rather than a special season, seem right for celebrating creation and evaluating our relationship to God’s earth. For that purpose, why not go with the seasons earth gives us? The traditional schedule for the four Ember Weeks is:

  • Spring—after the first Sunday of Lent
  • Summer—after Pentecost
  • Fall—after the Feast of the Holy Cross, September 14
  • Winter—after the Feast of Lucy—December 13.

Prayers for Ember Days

The Australian bishops desire Ember days to “express our solidarity with those who are disadvantaged, especially those who suffer through famine and the inequitable distribution of the world’s goods.” They recommend the Opening Prayer of the Mass for the Progress of Peoples for liturgical and private prayer:

Father, you have given all peoples one common origin,
and your will is to gather them as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of all with the fire of your love
and the desire to ensure justice for all their brothers and sisters.
By sharing the good things you give us
may we secure justice and equality for every human being,
an end to all division, and a human society built on love and peace.

Next week’s Ember Days are a good time for praising God, blessing creation, and assessing our relationship to our brothers and sisters and our common home. Here are some more prayers and Bible readings:

  • The Creation Hymn, Colossians 1:15-20
  • The praises of Shadrach, Misach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace, Daniel 3:52-90,
  • The Canticle of the Creatures by St. Francis of Assisi,
  • Pope Francis’ prayers for creation at the end of his encyclical Laudato Si.
August 31, 2018

Pope Francis announces World Day of Prayer for Creation.

Tomorrow is the day Christians pray for the earth. Pope Francis designated September 1 as a Day of Prayer for Creation in 2015. He was following the lead of other Christian denominations and groups. In my experience not enough Catholics know about this day.

Eastern Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I of Constantinople in 1989 was first to proclaimed September 1 an annual day of prayer and action to protect the environment. Subsequently many different Christian traditions have set the month between that date and October 4 as a season of Prayer for Creation. It’s a time of celebrating, praying for, and acting on behalf of creation. October 4 is the Feast Day of St. Francis.

St. Francis’ connection to nature and his love of all living things have made him one of Christianity’s most popular saints. Catholics, by proclamation of Pope John Paul II, have added to St. Francis’ titles “patron saint of those who promote ecology.”

Promoting a Season of Prayer for Creation

This year nine leaders from different denominations in a joint letter endorsed the concept of a Season of Creation. “As the environmental crisis deepens,’ they write, “we Christians are urgently called to witness to our faith by taking bold action to preserve the gift we share.”

Cardinal Peter Turkson is one of the signers. He is Prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development. “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue,” the cardinal declares. “It is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

Remembering Laudato Si

For Catholics a Day of Prayer for Creation is also a time to remember Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home.” The pope spoke to Catholics and the entire world. He called for an ecological conversion that respects the dignity of both the human and non-human worlds. Everything is connected, but especially are the health of world ecology and the well-being of the world’s poor connected.

The pope explains how Christianity can nurture a spirit of care for the earth. The incarnation of the divine into created matter makes everything sacred. “The very flowers of the field and the birds which [Jesus’] human eyes contemplated and admired are now imbued with his radiant presence.” The world is a web of relationships, say ecologists. It would have to be, according to Francis. It is created “according to the divine model” of relationships within the Trinity.

The Christian leaders who signed the joint letter would agree. It’s time, they say, to “deepen our relationship with the Creator, each other, and all of creation.”

Pope Francis concluded the encyclical Laudato Si with two prayers, which I reproduce here. The first Francis intends for all believers in God; the second is specifically Christian.

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.

A Christian joins with created things in prayer for creation

Father, we praise you with all your creatures.
They came forth from your all-powerful hand;
they are yours, filled with your presence and your tender love.
Praise be to you!

Son of God, Jesus,
through you all things were made.
You were formed in the womb of Mary our Mother,
you became part of this earth,
and you gazed upon this world with human eyes.
Today you are alive in every creature in your risen glory.
Praise be to you!

Holy Spirit, by your light
you guide this world towards the Father’s love
and accompany creation as it groans in travail.
You also dwell in our hearts
and you inspire us to do what is good.
Praise be to you!

Triune Lord, wondrous community of infinite love,
teach us to contemplate you in the beauty of the universe,
for all things speak of you.
Awaken our praise and thankfulness
for every being that you have made.
Give us the grace to feel profoundly joined
to everything that is.

God of love, show us our place in this world

as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

 

August 12, 2019

A child is baptized.
Ideally, Baptism takes place during a Sunday liturgy and involves the whole assembly.

Baptism takes away Original Sin. It confers sanctifying grace. It conforms a person to Christ and makes one a member of the Church. Baptism seems to be a great sacrament for an individual person. I believe it, but there’s something missing that is equal or maybe even ahead of that in importance. Baptism is a great blessing for the Church.

Crossing the threshold

Baptism is a liminal sacrament. It’s a crossing over from outside to inside the Church. I remember many years ago having the honor of being godparent at the Baptisms of a newborn niece and nephew. I remember answering questions to indicate that I was willing to undertake this responsibility. Those were Sunday afternoon ceremonies held near the entrance of the church. Only immediate family and friends were present. It looked like holding a door open for the newly baptized to walk through and suddenly become one of us.

That doorway experience is still part of the baptismal ceremony. The priest or deacon will greet the one to be baptized along with family and friends at entrance to the church. The baptismal font may be at that same entrance area, but it may also be more centrally located in the church. The font itself has a more substantial presence than the small bowl that I remember from my youth. It’s like saying that what’s happening in Baptism is important for all of us.

Today Baptism often occurs during Sunday Mass. When I’m present at these occasions, I feel something different from what I felt before. It’s a feeling of growth. The community that I am part of and that is part of me is now significantly bigger than it was before. As a parent and grandparent, that feeling is familiar. It’s like being expanded through space and into the future by this new life. Baptism is about the future of the Church.

There’s no such thing as a private sacrament. Even when the Baptism ceremony included only a small group, still that group represented the whole Church. Today that theology is more obvious with the whole community of a Sunday gathering welcoming the newly baptized person.

Limbo

But much more than a bigger welcome and a clearer signaling of the Church’s intent in Baptism is afoot in the new baptismal liturgy. You can see that in the fate of Limbo.

I went under the waters of Baptism 12 days after I was born. That was about standard in those long ago days. Catholic parents typically didn’t wait long for fear a child might die before receiving the grace of Baptism. Such a child, people thought, would be without sanctifying grace, the grace that makes us children of God. That child would not be punished in hell, but neither would it go to heaven. It would spend eternity in a state of merely natural happiness called Limbo. Understandably, parents would seek Baptism for a child as soon as possible.

Many had begun to question the teaching about Limbo by the time my wife and I had our first child,. I reasoned that she was a fruit of the sacrament of Matrimony. Hence, she could only be in the loving arms of God from the moment of her conception. Her Baptism was somewhat more than 12 days after her birth. We didn’t worry about her eternal salvation should death take her before then.

That was in 1979. Pope Benedict officially abandoned the teaching of Limbo in 2007.

Exorcism

Comparing the new and old rites of Baptism reveals another way Catholics have changed the way we think about the newborn child. Exorcism has a much smaller place in the new rite. Both rites refer to the works of the devil, but the new rite doesn’t imagine the devil with a power over and presence in the newborn child as the old rite does. The new rite, now called the Ordinary Rite of Baptism, has a prayer of exorcism. But the old, or Extraordinary, rite, has at least four prayers of banishing and protection from the devil.

One traditional Catholic site says the Extraordinary Form presents “an unabashed Catholic theology regarding the reality of evil.” Unabashed it is, but I think also unreal to imagine inhabiting a newborn child evil spirits that must be cast out. The new rite has two options for the prayer of exorcism. Here is one of them:

Almighty God,
you sent your only Son
to rescue us from slavery of sin,
and to give us the freedom
only your sons and daughters enjoy.

We now pray for this child
who will have to face the world with its temptations,
and fight the devil in all his cunning.

Your Son died and rose again to save us.
By his victory over sin and death,
cleanse this child from the stain of original sin.
Strengthen him (her) with the grace of Christ,
and watch over him (her) at every step in life’s journey.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.
All: Amen.

Both prayers recognize the power of the devil and the reality of sin. This one foresees the kind of battle that awaits the one who chooses to follow God will in this world.

Hope

There’s a great deal of uncertainty in today’s world. Bringing a child into this world is a courageous and hopeful act. I think about my own hopes for the future every time I see parents with a new baby. I think about what kind of future awaits that child and, vice versa, what that child might mean for whatever future awaits. In either direction, only God’s grace justifies our hope.

It’s the same in the family of the Church. As a family of human beings, we participate in the sin of the world. Yet we presume to welcome new members into that family, putting all our trust in God rather than ourselves. Trust works in the other direction as well. With each new member we don’t really know what we are getting, but we know we will be changed. Again only trust in God’s grace fortifies the hope we feel with every new member.

Traditional teaching seems to have been all about the change in the person being baptized. But just as surely the Church changes with the addition of each new member. Even the newborn baby comes as more than a blank slate. She comes with graces that preceded the grace of Baptism, graces that the Church didn’t have before.

It is even more apparent that Baptism brings new graces into the Church when an adult comes for Baptism. That person brings in a long history in which God’s grace has been at work. The still fairly new Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults will be in focus in a future post.

Image credit: Our Lady of Africa Parish, via Google Images

July 10, 2019

A reflection on the mystery of the sacraments can be about an entire world of mystery as well. The way we do sacraments expresses our understanding of the world and our place in it. Now, many years after the Second Vatican Council, you can read in the new shape of the Church’s sacramental celebrations an understanding of the world that we live in.

You can contrast that with the understanding that the Church’s public worship seemed to support before the changes that the Council brought. “Seemed” is an important word. I think the liturgy changed more than the Church’s theology.

Catholics always saw Christ’s action in the sacraments as pouring grace out into the world. To that picture the renewed liturgy makes a remarkable addition: the world itself is a place of grace. In the sacraments we celebrate the grace that God gives all the time and everywhere. This graced world is not a new idea in theology, but it’s a new thing for the Church’s liturgy to show it clearly.

Catholics also always knew that the world is a place of sin. Liturgy challenges the sin of the world, and the new shape of the liturgy makes that challenge clearer than before.

The work of the people

I have known and loved the Catholic sacraments before and after the Second Vatican Council. I knew a sense of mystery in the Latin Mass enacted on a distant high altar. But even before the Council the Church saw that it wasn’t enough. The people had to participate. Of course, interior disposition and understanding were important.

Our teachers in Catholic elementary school had already made sure we could follow the priest’s prayers in our English missals. We knew, or thought we knew, what was happening at every moment. Later, congregational singing became important, although often tentative and meek.  But our parts were like decorations or teaching aids or prayer aids added to the real mystery. Then came the council, and we watched as the Church took one step after another toward fully integrating the whole assembly into an all-English liturgy in the literal meaning of that word: Liturgy means “work of the people.”

The larger mystery

Liturgy feels less mysterious than before since we have realized that liturgy is our work. But mystery is an even larger part of Christian life and worship. More than a presence hidden on a distant altar or under the forms of bread and wine, the mystery is a work in the midst of people. Our work is God’s work. Liturgy is brightly shining and close up. With its light we can see a dimension in ourselves and in our world that usually is hidden.  God is present and active in our lives. Liturgy sends us into that mystery.

The sacramental light shining outward and what it can reveal about the graced, sinful world we live in is the guiding theme of these essays on the sacraments of the Catholic Church. I pay a lot attention to the grace that is before and around the sacraments. Sacraments are not the biggest parts of God’s grace, though of all graces they are the easiest to see.

Sacraments can teach us how to see more clearly. With their help a whole world of grace that we might easily miss can start catching our attention. I looked for the many ways sacraments can provide that help, and in doing so I found keys to greater understanding of the sacraments themselves. It’s not the only way, but it is one way of getting to the meaning and mystery of the sacraments. Each sacrament has its own message about graces God is always giving us.

I start the following meditations thinking about the sacraments in a general way. Then I look at the seven individual sacraments plus the sacrament of the visible Church and our relationship with Jesus, the original sacrament. After each section some questions invite you to “Think Again.”

You might also ask yourself:

  • Do I agree or disagree with particular ideas in this post?
  • Do I find a thought that challenges me to grow or change?
  • What is missing that ought to be there?

We are not done with liturgical renewal when liturgists and church authorities have made their findings and decisions and all the decorations are in place and the rubrics down pat. Renewal happens every time priests, liturgical ministers, and committees work to make liturgy feel like a celebration of something and make the signs of the sacraments look like they mean something. Liturgical renewal happens also as people take another look at the mystery they are celebrating when they come to church. That includes the presence and work of God in their lives.

Image credit: A Desert Father via Google Images

 

July 8, 2019

A program cover for the musical "Babes in Arms."
I like to sing “Where or when,” a song from this musical. It imagines lovers who have met somewhere, somewhen in a previous life.

A couple of times recently I heard someone call my 13-year-old granddaughter an old soul. It was a compliment, I’m sure. That’s not what “old” generally is. Things don’t always improve with age, but apparently souls do. That’s what a book that some friends recommended I read tells me, anyway.

My wife and I were enjoying a too-rare visit with folks we partied and prayed with in days gone by. They had, in their words, a shock for us – they were no longer Catholic. Instead, they believed in reincarnation and the power of hypnotism to uncover memories of the spirit world. Lots of people, including Catholics believe or half-believe in “past lives.” They may not know how foreign that belief is to Catholic teaching.  But our friends know the Catholic faith. If “shock” is the right word, they could have spared me some by telling me they had only turned atheist.

Journey of Souls by Michael Newton is the book they recommended. It’s not as heavy a read as Sally McFague’s Metaphorical Theology, which I’ve just finished. I’m reading Journey with McFague’s metaphors in mind. Maybe I’ll find the image that helps me understand what excites people about souls migrating through life after life. In other words, why would people want such a thing to be true? Especially when they already know something as beautiful as the Catholic faith.

That will be the focus of a future Monday post or two. Today’s post, since I’ve only started my friends’ book, will describe my initial negative responses to reincarnation.

Old soul or any soul – That’s not me

I find my identity in this body. I’m not a soul inside a body. On the subject of souls, I’m quite Aristotelian, which is to say, Catholic. Plato has his souls flying about in heaven and getting stuck in bodies every once in a while. Aristotle is down-to-earth. Since the time of Thomas Aquinas, the Church has followed Aristotle. So what is and isn’t a soul?

The soul is not a spiritual thing in a physical thing. I am not two things. Neither am I just a spiritual thing. (I experience my self as quite material.) My soul and my body go together to make one thing – me. One Medieval theologian said soul and body are not things but principles, or beginnings, of things.

My friends, who are really into souls, don’t wonder; but you might: Why believe in souls at all? Well, think of two questions we ask about something. We ask what it is. I am a human being, an individual in a way that rocks and plants and (I think) even animals are not. I am Jack Hartjes. We also ask what a thing is made of. I am flesh and bone, cells, molecules, atoms, whatever biology, chemistry, and physics study. I can’t avoid either of these questions, so I think in some way reality must correspond to both of them.

That’s all I can say, emphasizing “in some way.” I’m a linguistic realist, but not naïve. I have to talk about myself in two different ways. Reality doesn’t have to correspond with exactly two different things. When the philosopher talks about two beginnings of one thing, it sounds about right. Not that I have a clear understanding of it. That kind of knowing is for the sciences, which tell us a lot about reality. But not necessarily everything.

Being a skeptic: false data

When a scientist comes across data that don’t fit with an accepted theory, there are two options. The scientist might throw out the old theory and put a new one in its place. But that’s often difficult or traumatic or both. The other option is to look for what might be wrong with the data. The second option is more common, easier, and usually correct. It’s what I choose when I hear stories about flying saucers, ghosts, and other weird phenomena.

The data presented in Journey of Souls doesn’t fit with my strongly held worldview, and it’s definitely weird. So I look for reasons not to believe the data, and they’re not hard to find.

The most obvious reason for being a skeptic is: Michael Newton, the book’s author, could be lying. He could be taking advantage of people’s gullibility about preternatural things to make a buck.

People are gullible today. We imagine we live in an age of reason, of people thinking for themselves. But our reasoning has started working backwards. We’ve become skeptical, supposedly thinking for ourselves, about all the wrong things.

Not that established ways of thinking and acting should never be questioned. The field of Western medicine, for example, can stand some enrichment from seemingly unlikely sources. But, in general, it’s the unlikely sources that ought to be questioned first. These days anyone with an odd theory or supposed fact can convince millions that even the surest conclusions of science or history are wrong or doubtful. Think: global warming, birtherism, Sandy Hook, the Holocaust, etc.

Being a skeptic: misinterpreted data

So Newton could be lying, could be part of the surge of people deliberately choosing power and profit over the common good. And, by the way, adding to the confusion that makes concerted societal action for any good purpose impossible. But there’s a more likely reason for not believing the conclusions of his book. He could be honestly misinterpreting his data.

Newton is a psychoanalyst and hypnotist. He uses hypnotism to help his clients uncover what appear to be memories of past lives and the periods between lives. His clients describe the experiences of souls in these between periods in great detail. It seems like a scientific procedure guaranteed to produce a lot of imaginative stories.

Scientific experiments have controls. The control in these experiments consists in the similarities among the reports by many individuals. But these clients all live in the same world that I live in. In this world it’s impossible to avoid all the latest bantering about souls and past lives. Nothing is more likely than that these things influence a person’s visions under hypnosis. The reports could still be true. My point is that there’s another explanation. This skeptic prefers the other explanation.

Thinking with metaphors

Strictly rational thinking is one of the great accomplishments of the human race. Much, but not all, of science is strictly rational thinking. For concerns beyond the competence of science (and sometimes even in science), we have other kinds of thinking. For example, we take a known item out of one realm and let it tell about something relatively unknown in another realm. At one time I tried to let the solar system say something about atoms. That’s thinking by comparison, or metaphor. It was a metaphor with limited usefulness. But it appealed to my youthful imagination. More usefully, scientists think of light with two metaphors – wave and particle.

Theology, philosophy, or any attempt at a comprehensive worldview relies much more on metaphorical thinking than science. The Bible and the Christian tradition have many metaphors to help understand God, the world, and the relation between them. A favorite metaphor for my own personal worldview is story. I think of the human and natural processes in the world as a big story, complete with a Storyteller.

When I come back to Journey of Souls in a future post or two, these metaphors will be a point of comparison. I’ll look for what seem to be basic metaphors in Newton’s accounts of souls and the spirit world. I won’t be able to judge their truth of falsity any better than I have already in this post. But I’ll see if I like them better than other metaphors, including my favorite one. I will try to suggest reasons for wanting reincarnation to be true … or not.

Image: MountMorrisCentralSchool District

February 8, 2019

Two views of a glacier showing how it has lost most of its extent over a period of 100 years.
Glaciers, like this one in Glacier National Park, are retreating all over the world–a danger to billions of people.

In what ways and how much should the Church should get involved in politics? Presumably the sanctity of life is an issue where the Church has both interest and competence. Catholic sources have approved Trump’s defense of unborn life in his State of the Union address. Not many know that in recent decades the Church has also developed competency on global warming. The esteemed Pontifical Academy of Science has done groundbreaking work on the warming-caused shrinking of glaciers. Pope Francis insists that climate change is a moral and even theological issue as well a scientific one. There is more than enough reason for the Church to speak out on the great omission in Trump’s speech and his presidency – the lack of any concern for our rapidly and dangerously warming planet. 

Billions of people depend on glaciers, which the world is losing. 

For 11 summers my wife and I sold antiques out of a little store in Babb, Montana, practically on the edge of Glacier National Park. It was a time to enjoy nature, but also sad. Park rangers informed us that the park’s iconic feature, the glaciers, were not going to last more than a couple decades. I imagine the future hikes I might take to St. Mary and Virginia Falls; only if it’s later in the summer the falls will be dry. 

Those falls feed the St. Mary River, which supplies water for agriculture in Canada and the Eastern  Montana. That’s only one of the three directions in which water flows from Triple Divide, a mountain we could see from our store. And U.S. and Canadian farmers are a small part of the world’s people depending on glaciers not just for a livelihood but even for survival. 

Climate change dooms a third of the great ice fields of the Himalayas according to a new report. That’s if the world drastically cuts carbon emissions and keeps global warming to 1.5 degrees. Otherwise, the loss of glacier ice may rise to two thirds. Almost two billion people in India, Pakistan, China, and other countries depend on water from those glaciers. Philippus Wester, lead author of the report, says: 

The melting glaciers will increase river flows through to 2050 to 2060 … pushing up the risk of high-altitude lakes bursting their banks and engulfing communities. But from the 2060s, river flows will go into decline.… 

Lower flows will cut the power from the hydrodams that generate much of the region’s electricity. But the most serious impact will be on farmers in the foothills and downstream. They rely on predictable water supplies to grow the crops that feed the nations in the mountains’ shadows.  

 Papal academy studies glaciers 

Wester notes that glacier retreat has received less attention than other effects of global warming. We’re familiar with disappearing Pacific islands, Australian heatwaves, California wildfires, hurricanes and typhoons. In these ways global warming concerns millions of people. Even average U.S. citizens are waking up to the problem. But a look at the fate – and the importance – of glaciers reveals another dimension of magnitude. 

“Fate of the Mountain Glaciers in the Anthropocene” is a report published by the Pontifical Academy of Science, May 11, 2011. “Anthropocene” is the name of the new geological age we are entering.  The name – “recent human” — is warranted because “the climatic and ecological impacts of … human interference with the Earth System are expected to last for many millennia.”  

The report’s summary details how global warming is affecting glaciers: 

  • Glaciers are shrinking in area worldwide, with the highest rates documented at lower elevations. 
  • Long-term measurement series indicate that the rate of mass loss has more than doubled since the turn of the century. [That is, in the last 11 years.] 
  • Melting mountain glaciers and snows have contributed significantly to the sea level rise observed in the last century.  
  • Retreat of the glaciers in the European Alps has been observed since the end of the ‘Little Ice Age’ (first part of the 19th century), but the pace of retreat has been much faster since the 1980’s. The Alpine glaciers have already lost more than 50% of their mass.  
  • Thousands of small glaciers in the Hindukush-Himalayan-Tibetan region continue to disintegrate, a threat to local communities and the many more people farther away who depend on mountain water resources.  
  • Robust scenario calculations clearly indicate that many mountain ranges worldwide could lose major parts of their glaciers within the coming decades.   

Recommendations 

The papal commission’s report notes that two million people die each year because of “Human-caused changes in the composition of the air and air quality.” These would, I think, include deaths from pollution in addition to those related to global warming. In both ways the burning of fossil fuels is an issue for the Church and all pro-lifers. This global emergency requires three different responses, according to the report: 

  • Reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means possible to meet ambitious international global warming targets and ensure the long-term stability of the climate system. … a rapid transition to renewable energy sources … stopping deforestation, develop and deploy technologies that draw down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These actions must be accomplished within a few decades.   
  • Reduce the concentrations of warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by as much as 50%, to slow down climate change during this century while preventing millions of premature deaths from respiratory disease and millions of tons of crop damages every year.   
  • Prepare to adapt to the climatic changes … that society will be unable to mitigate.  

Blurring the political dividing lines 

In view of the current administration’s incompetence or worse and the Church’s expertise and concern in the area of global warming, there’s another requirement. The Church must speak out. Global warming is as much a Catholic issue as abortion and freedom of religion. Catholic media from Commonweal to EWTN should demand action. We can’t say we’re serious about the broad range of pro-life issues when we have Fortnights for Freedom but only one day for “Prayer for the Care of Creation.” Pope Francis declared this day, September 1, several years ago, and few Catholics even know about it. 

The Knights of Columbus council of my parish sponsors a billboard proclaiming the right to life of an unborn child. It says loud and clear what everybody already knows: The Catholic Church is against abortion. Coming into town on Highway 14, you reaffirm your own position. You’re either with the Church or against her. The dividing line is clear.  

Suppose one day next to that sign you see another Catholic sign. This one proclaims the Church’s position on care for the earth, the world in which we hope babies, born and unborn, will grow up. If you were on the opposite side from the Church before but you like this message, some cognitive dissonance sets in. You get to rethink what the Church means. The dividing line is not so clear now, and the Church is a little harder to ignore.  

It’s time for the Church to let the world in on the secret of who she really is and what she is about. 

Image credit: National Geographic via Google Images

February 1, 2019

A TV showing the CBS eye symbol and Jesus' saying, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away."
There may be more than personal morality to Jesus’ saying about how to enter into life.

A priest in Madison, Wisconsin, got a laugh with the opening lines of his homily. He was preaching on the passage where Jesus recommends a startling new way to enter into life: 

If your hand/foot/eye causes you to sin, cut it off/pluck it out. Better for you to enter into life [without them]. (Mark 9:43-48) 

“That is why we Catholics do not always interpret the Bible literally,” the priest quipped. 

I don’t suppose there are many Christians who do interpret this saying of Jesus literally. Typically, one says that Jesus was using a figure of speech to emphasize a point. It’s easy enough to ascribe moral lessons to the different body parts in Jesus’ saying: 

  • Hand – Don’t steal. 
  • Foot – Stop kicking the dog. 
  • Eye – Skip the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. 

Matthew, in fact, puts this teaching in the context of the famous teaching where Jesus equates lustful glances with adultery. (Matthew 5:27-30) But Mark’s Gospel, which is Luke’s source, doesn’t have the saying about lust. Here it seems odd for Jesus to be wasting a perfectly good figure of speech on some fairly humdrum moral situations. Mark’s Gospel presents a Jesus dealing with more world-historical issues. Jesus over and over startles us into a new kind of thinking about the Kingdom of God.  

Enter into life in a new kind of kingdom 

In Mark Jesus seems to have something more in mind than urging his followers not to sin with hand, foot, or eye, no matter how colorfully he speaks. Mark’s context (9:33-41) for this saying is Jesus’ new teaching about greatness in the Kingdom of God. In particular, it’s not something the disciples should be arguing about. They shouldn’t imagine, either that they can prevent non-members of their group from driving out demons. God’s power can’t be limited that way.  

Then comes the section with the saying about hand, foot, and eye and how to enter into life. My Bible titles it “Temptations to Sin.” (Mark 9:42ff) Curiously it starts not with a temptation that one might fall into but with something more aggressive: “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to sin.” I’m wondering if the “little ones” might include people who happen to be missing a hand, a foot, or an eye. 

Here are three factors that make me think more than personal morality is animating the saying in Mark: 

  • First, a major theme in Mark’s Gospel is Jesus’ opposition to the political, religious, and economic establishment represented by the Temple in Jerusalem. It was a far more entrenched vehicle of sin than anything a hand, foot, or eye could accomplish.  
  • Second, Jesus spent a lot of time with maimed, crippled, and blind people, along with people experiencing many other problems.  
  • Third, Temple rules forbade entrance by anyone who was not “whole.” The lame, maimed, blind, etc. were not allowed in. (See 2 Samuel 5:8) 

God’s love won’t be confined 

I put these facts together with the real temptation the disciples struggle with, the temptation to exclude others and make comparisons among themselves. It makes me think Jesus is not dealing with three different sins his followers might fall into. The saying as a whole functions like a parable with one over-arching meaning: God: Stop trying to limit God’s love. 

The Temple and the religious establishment it represented did that, and this Temple is doomed, in Jesus’ thinking. (Mark 13:2) A disciple who similarly tries to limit God’s love would be better off “if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42)  

Matthew’s Gospel has its own way of challenging the Temple’s restrictive policy: 

Jesus throws the buyers and sellers out of the Temple and upsets the tables of the money changers. He quotes Isaiah 56:7 — “My house shall be a house of prayer” — and says they’ve made it a “den of thieves.” Just then the blind and the lame approach Jesus “in the Temple area,” where they weren’t supposed to be, and he cures them. (Matthew 21:12-14) 

Jesus almost makes being blind or maimed or otherwise suffering a marker for preferred entry into his Father’s Kingdom. He had done so all along by his behavior. Now he does so in words. In the sphere of personal morality, we can’t take Jesus’ words about cutting off body parts literally. Jesus does not seriously want people to enter into life by injuring themselves. But on a political level his literal words are aimed directly at the Temple establishment’s disenfranchising of a large number of people, people whose company Jesus preferred. 

Image credit: Heartlight via Google Images

January 30, 2019

A pencil with a face that looks like it's unsure what to write. It is holding a crucifix.

Inclusive language is an important, but puzzling, theme in the Church’s life.

I was at a dinner party with friends, and after we’d drunk a decent amount of wine, the conversation turned to religion. I made a statement referring to God as “he,” and one of the participants immediately corrected. “You mean ‘she,’ don’t you?” I thought, If I’m going to talk about God when I’m this far under the influence, I shouldn’t have to worry about inclusive language or my personal pronouns.  

This is the sixth in a series on the Creed of Christians. An introduction consists of my retelling of the Creed’s story. That and links to other posts in the series are here.

I think the movement toward inclusiveness—less masculine language, more feminine images—in the way we speak about God is a good thing. I’m just not sure how far inclusive language should go. We need to give this controversial issue time to sort itself out. 

Some beginning thoughts about inclusive language 

  • It’s good to have more than just masculine images for God. To king, judge, father, we could add friend, lover, counselor, consoler, advocate, solid rock, companion, patron, support, friend, source and ground of our being—and mother. 
  • The English language is unusually big on personal pronouns. We use the words “he,” “him,” and “his” much more often than, say, Spanish or Latin. In both the latter languages “he” is often omitted. The Spanish “his” doesn’t even look or sound masculine, and in Latin it takes the gender of the word for thing possessed, not the possessor. The result is that language about God sounds a whole lot more masculine in English than it does in some other languages. If inclusive language is important anywhere in the world, it’s in English-speaking countries. 
  • Some religious speakers and writers, sensitive to the impressions that even the sound of language can make, have found ways to say what they want to say without using quite so many of these masculine words. This more inclusive language seems like a good thing to me.. 
  • On the other hand, I think there are limits to how far inclusive language should go. One priest I know never uses a masculine pronoun for God in his homilies, and it sounds stilted. He has to repeat “God” all the time and use made-up words like “Godself” instead of “himself.” It isn’t really our language. If the long struggle we Catholics had getting the liturgy in English means anything, it’s that God speaks to us in our own imperfect language. 

Should we call God “she”? 

Let’s say the Church someday becomes comfortable with feminine as well as masculine images for God. Can we also use feminine pronouns for God? And can we raise the status of the feminine images; for example, can we also say “Oh Mother” to God as we now say “Oh Father.” Can we mean that literally, not just think of God as a father with motherly characteristics or as mother but only metaphorically? I can only guess at an answer, and my guess is Yes and No. 

The “Yes” part is already happening. My friend (of the dinner and wine party) can pray to her “Mother” and think of God as “she.” Feminist theologians say there is a deepening of spirituality when women are free to think of God as one like them. I think the feminine images can deepen men’s spirituality as well.   

My “Yes” would be a limited one, though. First, much is perfectly appropriate in a person’s private spirituality and prayer. Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century mystic (and possibly the first person to publish a book in English, Wikipedia says), wrote of God and even of Christ as mother. 

You can expand the mind faster than the heart. It’s easy enough to think about God as mother, even if your image of God is very masculine. Saying to God from the heart “Oh Mother” is another story. The Liturgy appeals partly to the mind, but mostly it’s a prayer from the heart. In our hearts we’re not all Julian of Norwich. “She” and “Oh Mother” may work for some in private prayer but not in the Liturgy.  

‘Identifying’ with a masculine or feminine God? 

I have a second, more serious objection, not to any particular feminine images or to calling God “she,” but to what it might mean in a person’s spirituality. Catholic feminist theologian Carolyn Osiek asks, “Can you [men] identify with a feminine Goddess in the same way that women have been expected to identify with a masculine God?” I don’t know if men identify with a masculine God, but I don’t think they should. “Identifying with” is a modern psychological concept. It doesn’t apply very well to our relationship to God.  

God identifies with us, most especially in Jesus. The distance that God traveled from the divine to the human in that historical event completely overshadows the choice of becoming a male human as opposed to a female human. And how odd it would have been if God had decided to become both sexes! Then God would not have identified with anybody. 

In a sense we all invent our gods, that is, our favored images of God. But the classic “inventions” of god images, that ones that have kept their power through time and across the world, don’t seem designed to make identifying with God easy. Take the main one at issue here – Father. Could the average dad in Palestine identify with the One Jesus called Father? Jesus described that Father clearly. He’s the one who lets his son take off with an inheritance and welcomes him back with a kiss and a robe and a party. As Pope John Paul II says, that’s more like a mother than a father. And the parable doesn’t help men (any more than women) identify with God. If God is Father, then we’re all on the other side of a relation; we’re God’s children.

Images of God are relational 

There are other traditional images that don’t allow anyone to think that he or she is somehow more like God than somebody else: 

  • the image of the soul as feminine and God as the masculine lover. We find that in the Bible’s “Song of Songs” and also in the writings of many saints, including men.
  • and the image of the Church, Pope to bodies in the pews, as bride and  Christ as the bridegroom.  

God is the male figure, but if I’m touting my own masculinity, the images don’t work at all. There are other classic images that challenge the ways we like to think of ourselves. They effectively stop us from affirming ourselves in ways that divide us from each other:  

  • the image of us as sheep and Jesus as the shepherd, 
  • us as clay and God as potter, 
  • even the image of God as holy and us as sinners.  

All of these images involve us with God, but none of them have us quite where we like to think we are. The important thing is they are all relations. Separate yourself from the relation, picture God alone with your favorite image, and you have an idol. 

Idolatry 

What if potters thought of God as the Supreme Potter but didn’t understand that they were the clay? Or if shepherds imagined Jesus as the Good Shepherd without placing themselves among the sheep? Suppose rulers worshiped the Great Ruler in the sky but didn’t allow that they were among the ruled along with everybody else. That’s idolatry.  

There’s a reason why Jesus never called God “the Man in the Sky.” White beard or no, that image is without relationship. It’s just a bare Something all by itself. If you’re also a man, then you might take delight in that image and in your divine-like masculinity. But it’s not Christian. 

The classic images, conditioned though some of them are by their time and place and culture of male dominance, put us all–men and women, weak and strong, and so on–in the same position.  At times, not often enough but in our better moments, we recognize the privilege of being in that position: To be a recipient of God’s love in its many forms—maternal, paternal, solicitous as a good shepherd, and dependable as a solid rock. To be equal to each other and under the loving discipline of God. 

Image credit: Coffee and Canticles via Google Images

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