Life is a Pilgrimage

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experiences from my life story as they unfold.

 

Details

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

It has been awhile since I have made a post here, mostly because nothing of much significance has happened in this area of my life since the summer.

However, I would like to give you some details about that summer discussion we had at chaplain school (as best as my memory will allow).

A bit of background
There was daily chapel for all students, held in the morning before classes began. One for Protestants and one for Roman Catholics. The Protestant chapel was the dominant one, attended by 90% (or more, in a class of 160). The Roman Catholic chapel was smaller with about 15. It was attended by Roman Catholics (of course), Orthodox, Anglicans, Lutherans, and myself. So, I was not the only non-Roman Catholic there. It was a small group which led to a greater sense of community.

I remember the first time I attended the chapel. Someone asked “Are you Catholic?” (because you can’t tell by looking), and I answered “it depends on what you mean by catholic.” He raised his eyebrow, and looked a bit confused, and possibly irritated. I continued “I am not Roman Catholic. But I am catholic, meaning I belong to Christ’s universal church.”

Occasionally there would be no official chapel on a given day for scheduling reasons, but the Catholics were insistent on having mass, especially on holy days and I would join them. The question eventually came up (knowing I was not Roman Catholic) “So, why do you join us for mass so often as opposed to the Protestant chapel?” And I told them a bit about my story and my struggles with the Protestant Church. This lead to the invitation to dinner and discussion with the priest, 2 seminarians and myself.

The dinner and discussion
We picked a night and went to dinner. We shared our stories. The 2 seminarians, as it turned out joined the Catholic church from Protestant traditions. The priest was a “cradle Catholic.” We talked about a crazy man at the priest’s church who wore a red collar and pretended to be a priest; our personal faith journey; how one of the seminarians worked for the state department prior to his call.

We were enjoying each others company so we decided to go over to one of the seminarian’s room and have a theology-on-tap. Here we got more theological. And I found a great deal of agreement with them. We talked about the Eucharist and real presence, inter-church marriage, liturgy and the sacraments, and Vatican II.

There was disagreement concerning the nature of the church. I argued for a larger-than-structure, universal Christ-Church in which all Christians belonged. The two seminarians argued that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church, and Protestant Churches are only true in that they reflect the Roman Catholic Church. I brought up Ut Unum Sint, and Unitatis Redintegratio concerning the view of protestant churches and an eccumenism of convergence (not individual conversion). For inter-church marriages I brought up Familiaris Consorito, and how it says “The Eucharist is the very source of Christian marriage” (57) that if the Church does not allow a protestant husband and a Catholic wife to share together in the Eucharist we do harm to the foundation marriage. The Eucharist feeds a marriage.

So we were having a nice healthy discussion, finding points of agreement and were we differed. Enter the seminarian’s (very) Protestant room-mate. He naturally joins the conversation but shows such cynicism toward the Catholics that it produced no useful discussion. He kept spouting things like “The Bible is the only source of authority, we shouldn’t have a Pope.” He challenged me once (indirectly) and asked “Why would a Protestant want to take Catholic communion?”

Later he offered an “analogy” of the Catholic Church saying it was like an exclusive club in which you have to jump through many hoops and learn the secret handshake in order to be “in.” I offered another (more productive analogy) saying I see Protestants as similar to the Samaritans – separated from the temple with some strange beliefs according to the Jews, and yet Jesus said the Kingdom of God was for the Samaritans too. Protestants might act goofy and deny some pretty important beliefs, but we are like crazy unlce Frank at the family reunion – Still part of the family.

At this point it was fairly late and it was a “school night,” so we all went home. I appreciated there time and being able to dig deep in some theology with some fellow seminarians and Christians.


A priest, 2 Roman Catholic seminarians and me

Thursday, August 14th, 2008

I am at US Army Chaplain School and I had a great opportunity to meet with a priest and two seminarians over dinner last night. We also meet later in their room for some discussion.

Here are just a few things I discovered from the conversation:

  • You will end up where God wants you.
  • Be patient in discernment.
  • I am better able to have theological discussions with the Catholics here than I am with most Baptists.

I might dive into some more details of the discussion later, but right now it is lunch time.


How can I share communion with my wife?

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

The biggest spiritual hindrance to our marriage is that we are not able to share communion at the same table. My wife is Roman Catholic and I am not.

I have approached our pastor and asked to receive and was told that if I want to commune with my wife I would have to become Roman Catholic.

So that means, even though we are united in the sacrament of matrimony and we both have faith in Jesus, we cannot share that faith together at the table – the source and summit of our spiritual lives.

A proposed solution:

I could take some bread from the communion table at my Protestant Church with me to mass. And then my wife could take her communion at Catholic Church back to the pew with her, and then both her and I could communion together.

Or maybe I could just eat the “bread” as she goes forward. As far as the Roman Catholic Church is concerned, I’m just having a snack. While of course, I do understand the bread to be the essence of Christ and is thus communion for me.

What do you think?
What do you think? Good idea, bad idea, got a better idea? What are some theological implications of this solution? What are the theological implications of a husband and wife who do/can not share the Eucharist?


Sinning to Receive Christ

Tuesday, June 10th, 2008

This post is in response to a comment left by “against heterodoxy.” The comment was made on my previous post about my perceived invitation to communion. The commenter says what I did was a sin.

I have never been confronted with this issue in quite this way. I have been told that it is inappropriate or wrong but not a sin.

Sin, as defined in the Catechism:

is an offense against God: “Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in your sight.” (Ps 51:4) Sin sets itself against God’s love for us and turns our hearts away from it. Like the first sin, it is disobedience, a revolt against God through the will to become “like gods,” (Gen 3:5) knowing and determining good and evil. Sin is thus “love of oneself even to contempt of God.” (St Augustine De civ. Die 14, 28: PL 41, 436) In this proud self- exaltation, sin is diametrically opposed to the obedience of Jesus, which achieves our salvation. (Phil 2:6-9)

If sin is something that separates us from God, “and sets our hearts against Him,” how can receiving Christ in the Eucharist (by a baptized, repentant Christian) ever be understood as sin? My heart was completely with Christ as I received him. If sin is something that separates us from God, then isn’t not receiving Eucharist at mass a sin?

Certainly one can receive in an unworthy matter (1 Cor 11:27-29) I believe that “unworthy manner” refers to the reception of those who would not identify themselves with Christ – receiving him is a lie, and Christians who approach with an unrepentant heart. Does this warning apply to baptized non-Catholic Christians who are repentant of their sins?

A few more questions came to me as I read the comment:

When non-Catholic Christians celebrate the Eucharist in their own churches, is this a sin? If it is, why? If not, why is Roman Catholic Eucharist a sin for Protestants? How do the meals which Jesus shared with sinners relate to the Lord’s Supper? (Mt 9)

How does one atone for the “sin” of receiving Christ? Does the Eucharist belong to the Church or does it belong to Christ?


Mt 9:9-13 and an Invitation

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Sunday’s Gospel reading was form Matthew 9:9-13. It is about Matthew’s call to follow Jesus. Following the call Jesus has a meal with tax collectors as sinners, much to the disapproval of the Pharisees.

Our pastor preached a message of inclusion. He said that Jesus came specifically for sinners; he came to heal. Jesus did not ask for any membership cards in order to share a meal.

But then he started preaching a message I did not expect. He spoke of Jesus’ inclusion at table with sinners and tax collectors. He then turned and pointed to the altar and said that this Eucharistic table is also an open one. He said that it is inclusive, not exclusive. Jesus invites everyone to his table.

I felt a certain conviction to approach the altar. Not only because I believe it is something that I ought to do; but now also because I perceived the homily as a direct invitation. And so I received.

I still felt a bit awkward; that it was “sneaky.” It certainly was not guilt, but rather a social stigma. I was torn. To follow my conscience and participate because I believe Christ commanded this of all of his followers, and now the priest suggesting an open table. At the same time I know the institutional structures of the Roman Catholic Church forbid Eucharistic sharing.

The priest is aware that I am a Protestant Christian, and I was in the line next to his at the Eucharist. Following mass I did not feel any animosity from him. He asked how I was doing in school, and our anniversary plans. He didn’t draw me aside and tell me I was wrong. One cannot preach an inclusive sermon, without willing to accept the consequences that radical inclusion entails.

The message was not quite as explicit as I would have liked, but the message was clear. Still, I wonder why I feel the need to “get permission” to receive from anyone other than Christ?


Take a right at Canterbury and straight on to Rome

Tuesday, April 29th, 2008

It has been suggested to me by several individuals that the solution to my present dilemma is to join the Episcopal Church and become a priest because they allow for a married priesthood. After about 5 years or so I could request a “pastoral provision” to enter the Roman Catholic Church as a married priest.

I have never really considered this path before. I might be more personally comfortable within an Episcopal Church, but there is a great deal of controversy within that tradition which I am decidedly uncomfortable with.

Beside that, this path is very sneaky, underhanded, and dishonest. I cannot use the church to achieve a particular ends.

From the Roman Catholic perspective this would mean that the path to the priesthood is through receiving an invalid sacrament and serving in an unrecognized ministry for sometime in order to be considered a candidate for the priesthood. That is inherently contradictory.

The trouble is in the timing. If God had allowed me to fully recognize this call earlier in life, before I was married, there would be no problem. If God called me later in life, after I was ordained, it would still be a challenge, but at least the road to priesthood would be open to me.

But it is precisely because God, in his providence, choose to give me this knowledge (that the fullness of faith is found in the catholic church) at this particular station in life that presents the problem. That I am a married man, outside of the Roman Catholic Church, not ordained but undergoing theological training. The end result of a earlier call or a later call is the same (priesthood), but not so for a “middle call.”

I wonder if there is greater meaning to God’s particular timing here.


My visit to an Eastern Catholic Church

Monday, April 28th, 2008

A few people have informed me that Eastern Catholic Churches allow for a married priesthood. I had never considered looking at any of these churches, but I am at least open to any path which God may be calling me on. So, I visited an Eastern Catholic Church yesterday.

It was my local Melkite Greek Catholic Church. A brief history of the church can be found on their website:

The Melkites, or Byzantine rite Catholics of Middle Eastern origin, are the descendants of the early Christians of Antioch (Syria). Christianity was established in this area of the Middle East by St. Peter before he traveled on to the imperial city of Rome. In the 5th century, there arose some teachers who said that Christ was not truly God and truly man as well. They would not accept the teaching of the Catholic Church as defined by the Council of Chalcedon (451A.D.) Those in the Middle East who did accept the decision of Chalcedon followed the lead of the Byzantine emperor and were dubbed Melkites or King’s Men from the Aramaic word “melek” meaning King. (link)

It was foreign to me, and yet very beautiful. The church building was covered from floor to ceiling with icons. They were primarily tile mosaics which surrounded hand-drawn paintings. Each set of icons illustrated a piece of scripture or history. The words of scripture themselves were as important as the images in the display.

The priest walked around the sanctuary carrying incense with him as he went. This actually happened several times and the icons were also “incensed.”

Nearly the entire liturgy was chanted, and there was a high degree of participation required of the laity present. The faithful were not merely spectators at this celebration.

I am not sure if they use the same calendar as the Western Churches. The Easter declaration was proclaimed within the service: “he is risen,” which suggests they too are in the season of Easter. The lectionary is certainly different however. They used Jn 9:1-38 which is typically a Lenten scripture in the West. (USCCB)

It was simply nothing like anything I had seen before. It certainly was not Roman Catholic. And yet, they are a church which is in full communion with the Bishop of Rome. There is a great deal of diversity which can be found within the realm of the Catholic Church, both in practice and theology (to some extent). These Eastern Catholic Churches are self governing, have their own liturgy, practices, and canon law.

Unity is not the same as uniformity.

Ever since that experience I have wondered if the Eastern Catholic Churches might serve as a model for the unity of the Protestant Christian Churches with Rome. Could the Protestant denominations one day be in communion with Rome and yet be self governed with their own liturgy, practices, and law?

Why is a return to the Roman Rite necessary for Christian unity (in the Protestant/Catholic question)? There are 22 Eastern Catholic Churches which while different remain in communion with Rome. Maybe this type of unity could some day be offered to Protestant churches.

Someday we might see church marquees that read Lutheran Catholic Church, Episcopal Catholic Church, Disciples of Christ Catholic Church, Pentecostal Catholic Church, and so on. I understand the high degree of simplicity I express here, but I am still young enough to be an optimist.


I am called

Friday, April 25th, 2008

I continue to struggle with this dual call I have discovered: To enter into full communion with Christ’s Church, and also to enter into the ordained ministry.

Normally this would not be a problem, but married men are not normally considered as candidates for the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church.

My pastor has shared with me many other, quite worthy, ministries which are open to the laity. I could be a pastoral assistant, youth minister, cathecetical instructor, and some day a deacon. As I discern each of these calls I feel a certain hole in my being. That I would be falling short somehow of the call God has placed on my life.

My specific call is realized in the Army National Guard where I currently serve as a chaplain candidate. The chaplain candidate program is for seminary students who are preparing for the ordained ministry in their respective faith traditions. Chaplains must be ordained ministers within their own tradition. I would not be able to serve my brothers and sisters in uniform unless I am on a track that leads to ordination.

I shutter as I contemplate the thought of abandoning this call, especially as I see the great need for ministry in the armed forces. The workers are few as it is.

I believe my call to the ministry is stronger than my call to any particular church. I am seeking a path which will allow me to do both: to lay down the “protest” (i.e. enter into full communion with the Church) and to be God’s priest. I do not know if any such path exists.

God is above the brokenness of his visible Church on Earth. I will serve him, and submit to his call for me.

I have resolved to cling to my call to the ordained ministry. If I must choose between the two (ministry or communion), I will choose to serve the Lord – even within a separated ecclesial community.


It’s not about me.

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Someone gave me a very humbling comment to my last post. You can read it here.

In the Protestant Church, worship often feels very much like a show which is preformed for the congregation. Church members feel justified to complain to the preacher if a sermon was not to their liking, or to the music director if they didn’t choose enough hymns/praise choruses.

In the Protestant Church, we often judge the quality of worship based on our emotions following the service. Did the music speak to me? Did the sermon inspire me? Did I get a good feeling out of the worship?

This is so backward. Worship is all about God, focused on him and his word. By secondary benefit we are fulfilled by our worship of him. Worshiping God completes us, but this is not our primary concern.

That is one more thing I love about the Catholic Church – is her proper focus in worship. Even as I have been contemplating entering into full communion I still need to constantly refocus. I am not entering the church for any comfort I might find. I enter because I believe it is what God desires of me.

So, I need to rethink my previous post. So long as I am concerned with my own feelings during the mass, my focus is not where it should be. I will worship God on his terms, not mine.


My faith tradition

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

I grew up in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), DOC for short. I thought it might be helpful to attempt to explain the main tenets of this tradition.

In short

  • Unity is of primary importance.
    • Christians can disagree on matters of faith and remain unified.
    • Creeds are not to be used as a test for fellowship.
    • Strangely enough, it would be possible to hold Roman Catholic faith about many matters and yet find a welcoming home in a DOC congregation.
  • Personal interpretation of scripture is encouraged if not required.
  • Celebration of the Lord’s Supper is central to worship and practiced every Sunday.
  • We practice believer’s baptism (as opposed to infant baptism).
  • The church government is focused on the congregation. Individual congregations own their own property and call their own pastors. The diocese (we call them regions) exercises little authoritative control over churches. The bishop (we call them regional ministers) serves needs that cannot be covered by a local church and provides counsel to local pastors.

One of the catch-phrases of this tradition is “unity is our polar star.” Our founder, Alexander Campbell sought to bring all Christians together in line with Jesus’ prayer “that they might be one.”

Campbell sought to boil faith down to what he called essentials. I have labored to find a definition (i.e. a list) of these essentials to faith, but any such list does not appear to exist. I believe this is intentional so that the broadest possible definition of Christian can be held.

Another favorite DOC quote is “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, and in all things charity.” This basically means that we will agree upon the essentials of faith but allow personal freedom in other beliefs. My best guess at the essentials is the affirmation that “Jesus is my Lord and Savior” because this is all that is required for a believer to be baptized.

Campbell believed that disagreement among fellow Christians was not grounds for division. That we could disagree with one another and yet call each other Christians and maintain our communion.

Today the DOC church is a mainline Protestant denomination. While many congregations, and the general church, are involved in ecumenical ministries I wouldn’t define it as a “movement” anymore.

Because decisions are made at the congregational level, there may be huge differences from church to church in the DOC tradition. Anything from architecture and worship style to teaching and theology can differ greatly.

The DOC church has been a safe and affirming place for me to wrestle with my faith. And while I have some concern about the lose theological structure which exists, I’m certain that I wouldn’t have been able to explore my faith as deeply anywhere else.