dimanche 6 janvier 2019

The Challenge: A Year In Review (2018)

Image result for year in reviewThanks to my parent, I have always believed in God and that Christianity was the way to correctly understand true spirituality and proper theology. When I entered University in South Africa learning Science and encountering a variety of perspectives and series of worldviews collusion with mine, that is when I felt the need to know and to understand better the evidences for Christianity. The result was quite unexpected and gratifying. That is when I fell in love with Apologetic, this is how I became interested in Christian apologetic and various theological themes.

In the same vein, I have always been a Catholic Christian for as long as I can remember and I have always lived in relative peace with my protestant brothers in the Lord save for some turbulent episodes throughout the past 3 decades where I have been placed in uncomfortable position to explain and defend some aspects of the Catholic faith here and there. But usually these 'hot seat' encounters were sporadic but never as gruesome as it could have been if my inquisitors would have wanted to make it unbearable. I need to point out though that the recurrence and onslaught against some aspects of my Catholic faith  had been growing in intensity and frequency since I returned from my studies to Rwanda. Despite the recurrent intellectual confrontation, which I always welcomed with cheerfulness over the years, I have always operated with the motto, 'Live and Let live' until December 2017.

As is the custom, during major feasts of the Church someone will come up with a good humor and provocative questions or statements against the Catholic Church. I would then go into defense mode trying to explain the ins and outs of it and my interlocutors would then hit back with counter-arguments which will elicit a response from me and then back to them and so on. I was already used to this comical ritual always done out of fraternal concern from their part. December 2017 was shaping up to be the usual re-enactment for the pros and cons about Catholicism with the usual indictment: 'December 25 is a pagan feast' or 'The Christmas Tree is pure idolatry', etc. As expected the usual suspect showed up and led to a series of dialogue with arguments and counter arguments from each sides. But what was not expected though was The Challenge.

I was not expected to be challenged to a formal debate about these issues surrounding the Christmas themes. Since I do not shy away from some good Socratic dialogue about my faith, I gave my consent. Unfortunately the debate never occurred. But inadvertently something else, something good, came out of it. From the moment I was challenged for that formal debate, I took every single free time I could find to educate myself about the subject that would have been part of the debate. I watched videos, I read articles and one thing led to another and by the time it became clear that the debate would never occur I was already 'hooked' by my research. I found myself sinking deep and deep in my research and drifting from the precise aspect of the Christmas related topic to a broaden world of Catholic history first and then Catholic apologetic. I found myself falling deeply in love with my Christian Catholic faith.

I think I owed this short explanation to my family and friends who have been wondering what happened to me last year (2018) as most of my social media posts, messaging and debates were structured around Catholicism. It is not that I became Catholic in 2018 nor that I started believing deeply about the Christian Catholic faith on that year, rather as my earlier encounter with Christian apologetic, it is the year that I wanted to understand best about the evidences under-girding my Catholic faith due to the incessant and increased frequency on the attacks to which I had been subjected to for the past recent years.

The research into the primitive Christian Church beliefs and practices was gratifying and I feel that many people would certainly enjoy any of the literature that I have been exposed to throughout the year. Allow me to share some selection of books that I have read and found eye-opening about the Christian Catholic faith during the year 2018. I can't list all that the documentation that I came across throughout the year but this list is pretty much a good representation of what was covered in one way or another in other documentations that I had access to. I am only listing those books that I found outstanding:
1. 'Four Witness: The Early Church in Her Own Words' by Rod Bennet
2. 'The Apostasy That Wasn't: The Extraordinary Story of the Unbreakable Early Church' by Rod Bennet
3. 'Crossing the Tiber: Evangelical Protestants Discover the Historical Church' by Steve Ray
4. 'Upon this Rock: St. Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church' by Steve Ray
5. 'The Protestant's Dilemma: How the Reformation's Shocking Consequences Point to the Truth of Catholicism' by Devin Rose 
6. 'The Case for Jesus: The Biblical and Historical Evidence for Christ' by Brant Pitre 
7. 'Jesus and the Jewish Root of the Eucharist: Unlocking the Secrets of the Last Supper' by Brant Pitre 
8. 'Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary: Unveiling the Mother of the Messiah' by Brant Pitre
9. 'Jesus and the Last Supper' by Brant Pitre 
10. 'Why Catholic Bibles Are Bigger: The Untold Story of the Lost Books of the Protestant Bible' by Gary G. Michuta
Special mention to an non-Catholic book that I read but which inadvertently also bolstered some fascinating historical aspects about the Catholic tradition:
'The Son Rises: Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus' by William Lane Craig
As I reflect about the year 2018, I can't help but be grateful for all those who have helped me think critically about my Christian faith once more and who by their incessant intellectual engagement pushed me to embark in this beautiful exploration of the origin of Christianity. It has made my faith even more alive than before and has even heighten my spiritual sensibilities on a day to day basis.

The Holy Catholic Church mandate seems to operate as the oracle given to the Jewish Prophet Jeremiah:
"Behold! I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." - Jeremiah 1:10 MKJV  
Some evidences uncovered have re-affirmed my faith and why I should still be a Catholic Christians (and hopefully everybody else too) and some other evidences have brought to the fore-front the reality that it is not always easy to learn something new regardless of the amount of evidences unless one is also open to unlearn some other prior views and relinquish some tightly held commitments. This later part was rather easy for me since I was already Catholic but I found it taking its toll on non-catholic who started considering the evidences and arguments being advanced for the Catholic christian faith. This reminds me of an excellent remarks by the beloved Christian apologist, Ravi Zacharias, which I paraphrase as, "An opinion is what you can change without changing who you are, but a conviction is that which if you change, you will have to change who you are." This brilliant distinction between an opinion and a conviction might explain what happens when a protestant Christian changes a denomination within Protestantism (change of opinion) with them moving from Protestantism to enter into full communion with the Church that the Lord Jesus Christ caused into existence, the Catholic Church (change of conviction).

For good or bad, this is the current state of affair with many considering Catholicism around the world. I can only wish them well and I will join the Church in praying for all separated brethren to one day find enough courage, good reason and good sense to come back Rome Home.

Happy New Year 2019 and my best wishes to all as we continue to serve the Lord Jesus with an unalterable love and with full commitment to the growth of His Kingdom here on earth.

mercredi 24 octobre 2018

Mary as the Blessed Woman: Lesson from the Gospel of Luke

Image result for maryHow can we best understand these words of the Lord Jesus in reaction to a woman who made a positive remarks about Mary, the mother of the Savior? For some people, this is a disparaging statement Jesus made against anyone who might have in mind the intention to look with admiration to the blessed mother of our savior. If you are still not sure of what I am talking about, then please read this conversation as recorded by St. Luke:
"And it happened as He [Jesus] spoke these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice and said to Him, Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which You have sucked. But He said, No; rather, blessed are they who hear the Word of God and keep it." Luke 11:27-28 (Modern King James Version)
If you read this version of the King James, you are left with the impression that Jesus is matter of fact correcting the woman who spoke favorably of the Blessed mother of the Savior, Mary. However, when we read another version of the same King James, the tone of the savior is different and we may venture to say the whole emphasis of the text becomes different if not positive:
And it happened, as He spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” 28 But He said, More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:27-28- (New King James Version)

Is Jesus saying 'no my mother is not blessed but rather are blessed those who hear and keep my words' like the Modern Version of the King James Version seems to infer or is Jesus saying 'it is more than that, it is not limited to my mother, blessed are those who hear and keep my word' like the New King James version seem to insist? It all depends on which version you pick up. What is true of these two King James version can be found equally in other translations.

So how do we resolve this seemingly opposite messaging with one being adversarial in tone while the other being non-adversarial in tone?

May I suggest we find the solution of it from the original Greek texts. Instead of choosing the source material from another biblical translation, I will use the Greek text sources used by the King James Version itself as rendered by the eStrong Greek and Hebrew Dictionary. The word used in one version as "No rather" and by the other version as "More than that" is the Greek word: Menounge.
From G3303 and G3767 and G1065; so then at least: - nay but, yea doubtless (rather, verily).
Now we know why the King James Version uses different formulation of the same verse, it is because menounge could mean 'no but' or 'yes without doubt' or 'rather' or even 'verily (indeed)'. Given this wide diversity of words, translators have different preferences. They can choose one word with a tendency for adversity while another translator might choose a word with a positive connotation.

Nevertheless, I will argue here that Luke used the word, 'menounge' in a rather positive form and not in any negative way as this will become obvious shortly. Before I show you why this is the case from within the very Gospel of Luke itself, allow me to show you the other three other instances where this very word, 'menounge', is used in the New Testament beside Luke 11:28.

The Word 'Menounge' is used also in Romans 9:20, Romans 10:18: and Philippians 3:8.

1) Menounge: Positive Case from Romans 9

This chapter is known for its treatise on divine election. St. Paul approach to the Romans in discussing divine election is to point in anticipation of what his readers might be thinking by saying this:
(19)You will say to me then, “Why does He [God] still find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (20) But indeed [menounge], O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?”
Paul uses menounge to mean to the Romans that it is more than what they were wondering with regards to 'who can resist God's will if God decides to do what He wants?', he says, matter of fact, who are the Romans thinking they are to even question God in the first place. Here menounge doesn't means that what has been said before is not true but rather that it didn't go far enough. Not only can God do what he wants as the Romans may be wondering but we, as humans, can't even dare to challenge him. St. Paul uses menounge to expand his argument and not to deny the initial statement which says 'For who has resisted His will?'. Clearly Paul is responding to this by emphasizing in the positive that indeed none can resist the divine election of Israel and more than this no one can reply or challenge God's choice.

Hence in Romans 9, the word menounge doesn't cancel the former proposition in verse 19 but rather makes it even more harder by expanding the consequence in verse 20.

2) Menounge: Positive Case from Romans 10

St. Paul makes a long argument in chapter 10 with regard to the efficacy of the gospel and its capacity to reach people's heart. And through his explanation he makes use of the word, menounge, as seen in the verses below:
(16) But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, Lord, who has believed our report?” (17) So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.(18) But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed [menounge]: “Their sound has gone out to all the earthAnd their words to the ends of the world.” 19 But I say, did Israel not know? First Moses says: “I will provoke you to jealousy by those who are not a nation, I will move you to anger by a foolish nation.”
The argument is rather clear in this passage, St. Paul quotes the Jewish prophet Isaiah complaining about his uncertainty on the limited number of people in Israel who might have believed in his 'gospel' message (aka report), and Paul said, menounge - it is more than Israel, the message has gone beyond Israel and has reached all the earth and the ends of the world. Clearly, menounge, is not being used in a negative sense here as if it was negating the previous verse, but rather it is used to affirm the first one while expanding its meaning beyond Israel (verse 16, 19) to the rest of the world (verse 18). St. Paul is saying not only did the report reach Israel but it also went beyond Israel to the ends of the earth so to speak. It is not a negation of the first proposition but an expansion of it to include other lands beyond Israel.

3) Menounge: Positive Case of Philippians 3

In this epistle starting from verse 4 to verse 7, St. Paul tells of his credentials as a righteous man from the perspective of his Jewish heritage according to the Mosaic Law. In the middle of it, he uses the word, menounge:
(4) though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: (5) circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; (6) concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (7) But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. (8) Yet indeed [menounge] I also count ALL things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
Here again, St. Paul doesn't negate what he said in verse 7 when he said, 'these I have counted loss for Christ', rather when he uses menounge in verse 8, he affirmed such loss and goes even further, he expands the category of what he considered lost (see the list from verse 4-7). He also considered now 'ALL things loss' and not only 'these things' from his Jewish heritage.

NB: In summarizing the use of 'menounge' by St. Paul, we see that St. Paul doesn't use it to denigrate or cancel former statements, but rather he uses it to show that there is much more than what was said. He uses menounge to include the former statement into a larger narrative. In Rom 9, he meant not only you can't resist God's Will in election but you can't even question him. In Rom 10, he informed that not only Israel believed the report but also the rest of the world. And in Phil 3, he points out that not only those things he mentioned about his Jewish heritage he considered as loss for Christ but also ALL the rest too.

This leads us to the question we started with as we ponder this question, 'what are the chances that St. Luke who was a companion of St. Paul through out his ministry would use menounge to negate previous statement instead of affirming and expanding it just as St. Paul did?' I believe there is no chance he will use it differently than Paul did. And let me show you why.

4) FINALLY, Menounge: Positive Case in Luke 11

If we have learned anything from this word, menounge, in the reflection above, it is that it doesn't negate what is said before but rather takes former proposition in account and expands it. The Lord Jesus is not denying that his mother is blessed, he is expanding the category of the blessed as not to limit it to only his mother:
(27) And it happened, as He [Jesus] spoke these things, that a certain woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!” (28But He said, “More than that [menounge], blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” Luke 11:27-28- (New King James Version)
Clearly, St. Luke is reporting Jesus words to show that what made Mary, the mother of our Lord, blessed is exactly what makes those who were in that audience blessed, namely the hearing of the word of God and the keeping of those words.

The Context of Luke Gospel About Mary

If we remember how St. Luke started his gospel, he started by informing us that he investigated the content of this gospel from the eye-witnesses of those events:
"... they were passed down to us by those who had been eyewitnesses ... I, too, have carefully investigated everything from the beginning and have decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" - Luke 1:3 
Since he referred to eyewitness from the beginning, let us remember that among those who were there at the beginning of the Lord Jesus birth, his circumcision, his presentation at the temple, his visit at the temple at age 12 and the angelic visitation during the Annunciation event that kick-started the virginal pregnancy is ... well ... Mary, the mother of the Lord. She was an eye-witness of all these events Luke informed us.

One specific thing that we are told by St. Luke about these events is that Mary heard and kept the words from the Lord:

Example 1: Mary received the word of God and accepted it from the Archangel Gabriel:
"Then Mary said, 'Truly I am the Lord's servant. Let everything you have said happen to me.' Then the angel left her.'' - Gospel Luke 1:38  

Example 2: Mary is a blessed woman for she received the word of God according to the Holy Spirit:
''When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby jumped in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she loudly exclaimed, "How blessed are you among women, and how blessed is the infant in your womb! Why should this happen to me, to have the mother of my Lord visit me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. How blessed is this woman for believing that what was spoken to her by the Lord would be fulfilled!" -  Gospel of Luke 1:41-45
Example 3: Mary kept the words from the Lord as received by the Shepherd in her heart:
''When they saw this, they [the shepherds] repeated what they had been told about this child. All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. However, Mary continued to treasure all these things in her heart and to ponder them.'' - Gospel of Luke 2:17-19
Example 4: Mary kept the words of Jesus in her heart even when she didn't understand it:

''And He [Jesus] said to them, Why did you look for Me? Do you not know that I must be about My Father's business? And they did not understand the word which He spoke to them. And He went with them and came to Nazareth, and He was subject to them. But His mother kept all these sayings in her heart.'' - Gospel Luke 2:49-51
Image result for mary

IN CONCLUSION, St. Luke was inviting us to understand that what made a blessed woman of Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, the Woman on which breast the Baby-Christ suckled in his infancy was the fact that she heard the word of the God and kept it. The exhortation and lesson to be learned here is that Lord expects as much from every single one of us: Hear and Keep His Words like the Blessed Virgin did.

The Lord Jesus was not correcting the woman who spoke these words, 'Blessed is the womb that bore You, and the breasts which nursed You!', He was rather [menounge] expanding the category of those who are regarded blessed by telling her that 'you too can become blessed if you hear the Word of God and Keep It just like the Blessed Virgin Mary did countless time'.

Post Script
Allow me to end by quoting an ex-Protestant now turned Catholic apologist James Akin:
... the Greek word here translated 'rather' (menoun) does not have anything like the adversive force in Greek that 'rather' does in English. It is simply an emphatic particle normally rendered 'and'. Thus, if Bibles had italics for emphasis, the passage would be better translated: 'He said, and blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!' He i snot denying what she said, he is emphatically adding something to what she said. (Internet Question Box, 4/26/99). 

jeudi 16 août 2018

The Catholic Church and 'JUDAS'

I am often asked about what can be done about the clerical abuses within the Catholic Church namely, excessive political involvement of the clergy, sexual sins among which a predominance of homosexuality, etc.

One way to answer the question is to look at what has already been done about it in the Catholic Church history. There is a segment in Steve WEIDENKOPF book, "The Real Story of Catholic History: Answering Twenty Centuries of Anti-Catholic Myths" which shows how Pope Leo IX went about to combat Priests sexual immoralities and clergy grasps for secular power. Let me share an excerpt of it. Here is how he describes it:
Bruno of Alsace was noted for his piety. As bishop of Toul (in modern-day France), he cared deeply for his people. The abuses in the Church, especially among the clergy, pained him. When Pope Damasus II, the third German to sit on the Chair of Peter, died in 1048 after a short pontificate of only twenty-three days, Bruno of Alsace was the logical and saintly choice as his successor [and become Pope Leo IX]. By the time of Pope Leo IX in the mid-eleventh century, unchastity among the clergy was widespread. So many priests lived openly with mistresses or practiced the abhorrent vice of homosexuality that St. Peter Damian (1007–1072) wrote The Book of Gomorrah against the sexual sins of the clergy. The eleventh-century papal reform focused on ensuring the independence of the papacy from the interference of secular rulers, and was led mostly by popes who were former monks, free from the sins of secular (diocesan) clergy.
Pope St. Leo IX (r. 1049–1054) was faced with three major issues that shaped his pontificate: the protection of the Papal States from the encroaching Normans; resolution of disputes with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantines); and the reform of the Church. And the Church was indeed in desperate need of reform in the eleventh century. The practice of simony (buying or selling Church offices) was rampant, as were violations of the discipline of celibacy among clergy (deacons, priests, and bishops).
To combat these abuses, Leo IX launched one of the most comprehensive reforms in the history of the Church. To ensure its effectiveness, he did not just issue decrees from Rome and demand obedience; he went on the most significant papal road trip in history, traveling throughout Italy, Germany, and France, and holding local synods along the way. Indeed, in the five and half years of his pontificate, Leo spent only six months in the city of Rome. Leo deposed immoral and corrupt bishops, and excommunicated clergy found guilty of simony or unchastity. These reform popes (St. Leo IX, St. Gregory VII, Bl. Urban II) recognized that reform in terms of the Church’s freedom from external secular control could be accomplished only if reform began in the Church, hence their focus on rooting out simony and unchastity among the clergy. Urban II captured the essence of the reform movement when he wrote, 
The Church shall be Catholic, chaste and free: Catholic in the faith and fellowship of the saints, chaste from all contagion of evil, and free from secular power.
I think that Pope Francis could take a page from Pope Leo IX effectiveness in cleaning up the Church like the Lord Jesus cleaned up the temple in Jerusalem. Maybe our current Pope should have taken the name of Leo IX in order to signal to all that the Church was serious about doing a thorough reform and that he meant business.

In any case, the Lord Jesus has never abandoned his Church even when among its ranks many 'Judas' were appointed to eminent offices of the Catholic Church. 'Judas' was one of the 12 apostles of the Lord Jesus and now the famous traitor in History. His proximity to the Lord Jesus makes him quite a powerful figure that it is sometime difficult to distinguish him from the honorable disciples. ''Judas'' is:

The wolf among the sheep: Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves." Matthew 7:15
The false brother that put the Church in danger: "[I have been] in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, inperils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren" 2 Corinthians 11:26
We may be afraid of dragons and wolfs, but the Lord is not. Our Lord and Savior has always had the last word and this is not about to change anytime soon. All his enemies will be trampled under His feet in due time. What the faithful Christians must do is to stand their ground in holiness and courage as all Martyrs before them have done. We are not the exception to Martyrdom! Faithful Catholics will need every once of courage to resist evil which has infiltrated the Church in their generation as it does in every generation for that matter (nothing new here). And they should keep the light turned up, that is the only way that evil will flee. Here is the way to keep the light up, break the culture of silence which empowers evil and sin:
"and have nothing to do with the unfruitful actions that darkness produces. Instead, expose them for what they are." -Ephesians 5:11  
St. Paul the apostle, knowing the difficulties that the Holy Church will go through in History in pursuit of her perfection and maturity, gave us this prophecy to comfort us and encourage us not to give up in doing what is good and right even to the cost of our own lives:
"Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for it,  that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present it to Himself as the glorious church, without spot or wrinkle or any such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish." - Ephesians 5:25-27

mercredi 9 mai 2018

Catholic and Protestant: Similar Belief, different Practices on Eternal Life

Image result for Catholic & ProtestantOn my Facebook page I had put this short note as I was tagging a Youtube Video by Father John Hollowell paraphrasing Pope Benedict XVI, "We work for Christian unity by continuously define what we believe to other people and hopefully that will start a dialogue". A good friend on mine reacted that this was indeed the right way to bridge the ever expanding divide between Christian brothers from both the Catholic Church and those of the different Protestant denominations. He also made a remark that I have heard many times, "It is hard to find among lay Catholics, clear and sound explanations of their practices".

This morning on a Church WhatApp group I am part of, someone presented a similar point but in a very interesting anecdotes that I took liberty to reproduce it on my blog. I hope you enjoy this dialogue.
I was a Catholic once....

"I was a Catholic once,” said the lady a few yards from me in the parking lot. “Now I’m a Christian and you can be one as well.” She preceded to hand a tract to a gentleman standing next to the opened trunk of his car. I couldn’t help it.

“Excuse me,” I said to the lady “but could I too have a tract?” The lady's face beamed. “Are you saved?,” she asked. “Of course I am; I’m a believing Catholic,” I retorted. She looked at me as if I had bad breath or something. She continued, “I was just telling this gentleman that I too was a Catholic - a Catholic for thirty-some years in fact. Now I've found Christ and I’m trying to tell everyone I know about salvation through Christ.”

“Wow, that’s really something! May I ask why you left the Church?” I could tell that, by asking this question, my new acquaintance was getting excited. After all, she had probably been snubbed by dozens of people and now she has someone that she can “witness” to Christ. I didn’t mind much either, but I tried not to show it.

"You see,” she said, “I was born Catholic. I attended Mass every week, received the Sacraments and graduated from a Catholic school. Not once did I ever hear the gospel proclaimed. Not once! It was after the birth of my first child that a good friend of mine shared ‘the gospel’ with me and I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior and became a Christian. Now I belong to a ‘Bible-believing’ church and I’m sharing the gospel with whomever will listen.”

This shocked me. “You mean you belonged to the Catholic Church for over forty years and you never heard the gospel?,” I said. She was getting more excited. “Yes, I never once heard the gospel of salvation preached or taught or even mentioned in the Church. If you don’t preach the gospel, excuse my bluntness, but you're simply not Christian.” I scratched my head and said, “that’s strange. I’ve been a Catholic all my life and I bet I hear the gospel ever week at Church.” Her smile quickly faded into a look of curiosity. “Maybe, I’m missing something,” I continued. “Tell me what you mean by ‘the gospel?’”

The lady reached back into her purse to pull out a little tract and said, “This tracts explains the simple gospel of salvation. It can be broken down into four easy steps.

“First, we acknowledge that we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.
Secondly, we recognize that only God can save us.
The third step is that Jesus Christ died on the Cross for our sins and to bring us to God.
And the fourth and final step is that each individual accepts Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior to be saved.”

I thought for a couple of seconds and said, “If I could demonstrate to you that Catholics hear “the gospel” every Sunday, would you agree to take a closer look at the Catholic Church?” Now, she knew she had me over a barrel. “Prove it,” she said.

I excused myself for a second and ran to my car to grab a Missal. “Since you have attended Mass nearly all your life, you probably remember these prayers.” I flipped open to the beginning prayers of the Mass and proceeded to show her how Catholics hear, pray and live the gospel message every Sunday.

The first step in my new found friend’s tract stated that we are all sinners in need of God’s forgiveness. After the Greeting, the Mass continues to what is known as the Penitential Rite. I read loud the text to her while she followed reading silently.
“I confess to almighty God, and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have sinned through my own fault. In my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done, and in what I have failed to do.”
I mentioned that it is here in this section that each Catholic states publicly that he or she is individually a sinner - not merely in a general sense - but specifically in thoughts, words and deeds. You can’t get much more complete than that. I continued reading,
“and I ask Blessed Mary, ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and to you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God.”
The priest reaffirms this confession of sin by praying, “May almighty God have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, and bring us to everlasting life.” And the whole congregation says “Amen,” that is, “I believe.” The priest continues. “Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy,”
and finishes by saying; "Lord show us your mercy and love. And grant us your salvation.”

I looked at her and said, “You see, we Catholics start every Mass with a public declaration of our own personal sinfulness and look to God for forgiveness.” She responded, “But Catholics don’t believe that God alone can save them. They believe Mary and the saints will save them.” I shook my head in disagreement. “No, we don’t. Remember what we had just read in the Mass. Catholic ask Mary, the angels, the saints and the whole congregation to pray to God for mercy on their behalf - just like I would ask you to pray for me to God. Does that mean that I look to you to ‘save’ me? No, of course I don’t believe that. I’m just asking for your help. Besides the ‘Gloria’ of the Mass proves that Catholics look to God alone to save us.”

I began reading the Missal emphasizing certain words to prove my point:
“Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world, have mercy on us, you are seated at the right hand of the Father, receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father."
Likewise, the doxology spoken just prior to communion reads,
“Through him, with him, in him; in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor is your, almighty Father, for ever and ever.”
As I looked up, I could see the lady intently reading the page. She couldn’t believe that she had prayed these prayers for years and never noticed what it was saying. Yet, there it was in black and white. I continued with the third step - the acknowledgment that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and to bring us to God. The Profession of Faith reads,
“For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”
In the Eucharistic Prayer 1, the priest prays:
“Remember [Lord] all of us gather here before you. You know how firmly we believe in you and dedicate ourselves to you. . . We pray to you, our living and true God, for our well-being and redemption . . . Grant us your peace in this life, save us from final damnation, and count us among those you have chosen.”
The prayer ends with an appeal to God for salvation through Jesus Christ:
“May, these and all who sleep in Christ, find in your presence light, happiness and peace. For ourselves, too, we ask some share in the fellowship of your apostles and martyrs . . . Though we are sinners, we trust in your mercy and love. Do not consider what we truly deserve, but grant us your forgiveness. Through Christ our Lord you give us all these gifts. You fill them with life and goodness, you bless them and make them holy.”
Similarly the second Eucharistic Prayer proclaims,
“Dying you [Jesus] destroyed our death, rising you restored our life. Lord Jesus, come in glory. . . Have mercy on us all; make us worthy to share eternal life with Mary, the virgin Mother of God, with the apostles and with all the saints who have done your will throughout the ages.”
Likewise, Eucharistic Prayer 3 reads,
“All life, all holiness comes from you through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, by the working of the Holy Spirit . . . Father, calling to mind the death your Son endured for our salvation, his glorious resurrection and ascension into heaven, and ready to greet him when he comes again, we offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice. Look with favour on our your Church’s offering, and see the Victim [Christ] whose death has reconciled us to yourself . . . May he make us an everlasting gift for you and enable us to share in the inheritance of your saints . . ."
Lastly, the fourth Eucharistic Prayer reads,
“Father, you so loved the world that in the fullness of time you sent your only Son to be our Savior . . . In fulfillment of your will he gave himself up to death; but by rising from the dead, he destroyed death and restored life.”

In this prayer, the congregation proclaims the mystery of faith:
“Lord, by your cross and resurrection, you have set us free. You are the Savior of the world.”
“You see, every week Catholics proclaim that Jesus died for them,” I said to the lady who was now searching for something to say. After a brief moment of silence, she shot a response back at me.
“What about accepting Jesus Christ and their personal Lord and Savior?” She retorted. “They may be saying all this stuff, but they don’t make a personal act of acceptance.” What she didn’t know was that I deliberately didn’t mention the last “step” of her “gospel.”

I explained that if Catholics don’t believe what they are praying, they ought not to be publicly proclaiming it. Since we can’t read the dispositions of other people’s hearts, we ought not to judge whether they truly believe what they are saying. Next, I pointed out the last step - where Catholics are accepting Jesus into their hearts. Right before communion the priest holds up the host (which is now the body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord under the appearances of bread and wine) and prays.
“This is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Happy are those who are called to his supper.”
And the congregation responds,
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.”
I looked straight into the lady’s eyes and said, “It is here that all those who are prepared to receive Jesus Christ walk up to the front of the church but they don’t just believing in Christ or merely asking Jesus into their hearts.” “They don’t?” She asked. “No,” I answered, “they receive that same Christ who died on the cross on Calvary into their mouth and into their stomachs - body, blood, soul and divinity - and become one with him in an unspeakable way. Now that's accepting Christ!” She didn’t have a response. I’m not sure that she had ever really thought about the Mass and Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist because she appeared to be both surprised and intrigued.

I gave her my phone number and invited her to a study group I was heading in the neighborhood which examined the Biblical foundation for Catholic doctrine. As we departed, I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people, like my new friend, left the Church thinking that it had nothing to say about salvation. Yet the richness of the liturgy of the Mass and even more so Christ’s real substantial presence in the Eucharist so outshines our separated brethren’s “low church” prayer services that there is no comparison!

Indeed, the mystery of the Mass goes far beyond the simple “sinner’s prayer.” What I wanted to demonstrate is that all the elements of what Protestants consider the “essentials” of human salvation are presented, in Technicolor, in the liturgy of the Mass and that to deny the charge that the Church is somehow neglecting to present “the gospel".

mercredi 28 février 2018

A Youtube Ecumenical Debate: Mary and Idols

Image result for misunderstandingI was reading an exchange between an anti-catholic gentleman and a catholic speaker, Robert Haddad. On his Youtube channel, the catholic speaker got challenged about his belief, and from there a courteous debate followed. I want to share only one theme that was debated among many. It made me chuckle and shake my head with amusement. The lesson of this debate is, "Never assume that someone doesn't know what he is talking about unless you know that for a fact". Please enjoy!


The anti-Catholic gentleman:

Amazing to see you use Bible Scriptures to prove your beliefs. Well presented. Why don't you do the same thing for ALL your doctrines? Luke 11:27 As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd raised her voice and said, “Blessed is the womb that bore You, and blessed are the breasts that nursed You.” 28 But He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” 9 So then, this is how you should pray: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, And do not call anyone on earth your father, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Further. Like the Idol nailed to the cross that shared most of your presentation. Find me some SCRIPTURAL support for that as well. A lot of your doctrines have NO SCRIPTURE to stand on.

The Catholic speaker,Robert Haddad, responded:

I am happy to provide what you ask for.

A. THE BLESSED MARY Firstly, to your first objection: The simple response one can give to this objection is that given by St Augustine of Hippo: the Virgin Mary was the only person who had both the privilege to bear and suckle the Christ-child and the distinction of hearing and keeping the word of God. Furthermore, if she had not persevered in keeping the word of God throughout her entire life she would not have been present at the foot of the Cross during the darkest hour or on Mt Olivet or in the Cenacle in the moments of final triumph and glory. With regard to the quote itself, the ex-Protestant Catholic apologist James Akin makes the following valuable point:
… the Greek word here translated ‘rather’ (menoun) does not have anything like the adversive force in Greek that ‘rather’ does in English. It is simply an emphatic particle normally rendered ‘and.’ Thus, if Bibles had italics for emphasis, the passage would be better translated: ‘He said, And blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ He is not denying what she said, he is emphatically adding something to what she said. (Internet Question Box, 4/26/99).
In Phil. 3:7-8 the same word menoun again appears and is usually translated as “indeed,” with the meaning of “yes, and in addition to.” B. IDOLS

Regarding statues and images: Regarding the scriptural prohibition of images, the real purpose of the commandment is to steer the people of God away from idolatry, that is, the worship of any false god. Consider the following passages: “For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire” (Deut. 7:4-5). “And the people of Israel did secretly against the Lord their God things that were not right. They built for themselves high places at all their towns, from watchtower to fortified city; they set up for themselves pillars and Asherim on every high hill and under every green tree; and there they burned incense on all the high places, as the nations did whom the Lord carried away before them. And they did wicked things, provoking the Lord to anger, and they served idols, of which the Lord had said to them, ‘You shall not do this’” (2 Kgs 17:9-12). God obviously abhors idolatry; however, in the same Scriptures we see the Jews making statues for legitimate religious purposes, and under God’s command: “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.’ So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live” (Num. 21:8-9). When the bronze serpent was later adored by some Jews, rather than simply venerated, it was destroyed:“He [Hezekiah] removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan” (2 Kgs 18:4). In the construction of the Ark of the Covenant God gave the following instructions: “And you shall make two cherubim of gold; of hammered work shall you make them, on the two ends of the mercy seat. Make one cherub on the one end, and one cherub on the other end; of one piece with the mercy seat shall you make the cherubim on its two ends. The cherubim shall spread out their wings above, overshadowing the mercy seat with their wings, their faces one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be turned toward the mercy seat” (Exod. 25:18-20). The Temple of Jerusalem was thoroughly decorated with statues of all kinds: “In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high” (1 Kgs 6:23).“The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house; and the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house” (1 Kgs 6:26-27). “… and on the panels that were set in the frames were lions, oxen, and cherubim. Upon the frames, both above and below the lions and oxen, there were wreaths of beveled work” (1 Kgs 7:29). “… for the altar of incense made of refined gold, and its weight; also his plan for the golden chariot of the cherubim that spread their wings and covered the ark of the covenant of the Lord” (1 Chron. 28:18). “In the most holy place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid them with gold” (2 Chron. 3:10). “Under it were figures of gourds, for thirty cubits, compassing the sea round about; the gourds were in two rows, cast with it when it was cast. It stood upon twelve oxen, three facing north, three facing west, three facing south, and three facing east; the sea was set upon them, and all their hinder parts were inward” (2 Chron. 4:3-4).“It was formed of cherubim and palm trees, a palm tree between cherub and cherub. Every cherub had two faces” (Ezek. 41:17-18). The Temple with all these statues was built by Solomon. What is remarkable is that just after construction was begun God spoke to Solomon as follows: “Now the word of the Lord came to Solomon, ‘Concerning this house which you are building, if you will walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments and walk in them, then I will establish my word with you, which I spoke to David your father. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’” (1 Kgs 6:11-14). What does Solomon do in the light of God’s admonition to “walk in my statutes and obey my ordinances and keep all my commandments”? He carves statues for the house of the Lord, and to the Lord’s delight!: “When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. And the Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your supplication, which you have made before me; I have consecrated this house which you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time’” (1 Kgs 9:1-3). The ancient Jewish practice in this regard was very strict, for they were prone to imitate the idolatry of the pagans around them. The early Christians, who lived in the age of the Incarnation, had no such difficulty. So the Catacombs are a treasury of paintings, gilded glasses, depicting scenes from the lives of Jesus, his Mother, the Apostles and other persons of the Old and New Testaments. The mind of the early Christians was clearly a Catholic mind. It follows that if the Commandments prohibited the making of all images whatsoever, Protestants ought to remove and destroy all their statues of political, military, artistic and sporting heroes, as well as all their pictures of relatives and friends. Common sense, though, tells us that such would be an absurd outcome. The homage given to the image refers to the prototype it represents. Pagans either adore the statue/image itself or the statue/image represents a being that has no existence. Regarding the crucifix, this is not an idol because it does not represent a false god but represents Jesus and what he did for us. Christians see in the Cross of Jesus the great love he had for us and with St Paul would say, “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). Thus, we see the value of the Catholic practice of placing an image of Jesus upon crosses to form the image of the crucifix. It is a means by which we “preach Christ crucified” and show forth “the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:23-24).

mercredi 17 janvier 2018

Step Up Your Game with 2018

Image result for stepping up your gameHappy New Year 2018 to all the readers of Help Me Understand blog. Today marks the beginning of my first blog-post for the year 2018. I am feeling in a story-telling mood and that is exactly what I am going to do.  
'Why do you like reading books' my cousin Tony asked me exasperated once. He had tried unsuccessfully to bring me out of the bedroom where it seemed to him I had spent most of my holiday times in. The year was 1998, I had just started my fourth year of high-school. Though i wasn't able to answer him intelligently at the time on why my eyes clung to this particular book the whole holiday, I think I can do so now. I was reading my first troubling book, 'The Normal Christian Life' by Watchman Nee. He wrote differently from every other authors I had read at that time. His writing style was new to me. He could vividly describe a complex situation simply by appealing to casual words, no sophisticated words in his writing. He had a fine use of common words.   

Stacking books after books after it, my reading became intoxicating as I grew up, thanks to my parents' encouragement. Given that I had come to split my time between dialogues and debates with spiritual opponents, Brahnamists and Jehovah Witnesses, I had come to read a lot of their respective documentations. One of them which I came to like despite our opposite views on religion and Christian doctrines, was the Jehovah Witness book that dealt with youth, 'Les Jeunes s'interrogent.' It was the best resource out there I could find dealing with behavior and teenage lifestyle. The book was so accessible and less dogmatic which I think played in its favor unlike their Watch Tower editions. In one of its chapters, the authors encouraged teenagers to be careful about their reading habits and they made a remarkable comment that has stuck with me up to this day and I paraphrase it, 'Reading a book is like having a conversation with the author. And some authors are not worth having a conversation with.' This piece of advise has encouraged me to be selective in my readings and it has given me a different outlook on literature. Reading is an opportunity to be in conversation, so to speak, with an author. And boy, i have been in conversation with some minds that have totally changed me.

The year was 2007 and I was reading 'Dream and you will win the World' by Cesar Castellanos. I came to a chapter where the story of his wife is recounted. She was watching a particular TV program and on the program a lady practicing new age spirituality was the main guest. The new ager lady had many repulsive views to her taste. Adding insult-to-injury, she also revealed that she would be running as a presidential candidate in Columbia. By the end of the TV program, Castellanos wife found herself mumbling and lamenting to herself, 'How can this country change if we have people like this running our country?' and almost suddenly as she mentally uttered these words, she heard what she identified as the voice of the Holy Spirit challenging her with these mental counter-thoughts, 'Then why don't you run for presidency?'

She took it as a lesson realizing that you shouldn't just complain in life, sometime you have to act. She ran for presidency and lost the election in Columbia when there were only two remaining national candidates. Though she didn't reach the supreme position, she became influential and was able in many ways to influence public opinion with her perceived ethical views based on her Christian worldview.

This story really hit me like a load of bricks. As I was reading the book, incidentally at my campus was running a recruitment of student representatives. The position was widely advertised on campuses running for weeks. I didn't even think about it as I daily passed it on my way to or from school. Upon the book read, I was reminded that I had always complained that students at the University were doing drugs and other things that affected their academic performance. Sometime I did pray for it but that was all. Now things were different. I had been in "dialogue" with an author who would awaken my resolve into going the extra mile. I felt compelled to apply for this academic position. I became restless. My thoughts were agitated during day and night. Many objections came to my mind on why I should not go for it, chief of them: I was a foreign student, a foreigner! "Who will vote for me anyway?", I asked myself repeatedly. I wasn't even sure what would I do even if I became one of the elite student representative at the University in charge of five campus with close to 60,000 students. In brief, I was afraid and sweating fear.

Image result for stepping up your gameBeing unsuccessful to dissuade myself out it, I chose the path of least resistance - I embraced the challenge. Going one more time through the requirement listed, I decided to apply by faith. I was tired of complaining and running away each time I saw an opportunity to make a commitment to affect changes in my immediate surrounding. I had to make a decision that night in my room as I closed the book one last time. My choses were clear: Either I stop complaining at what happens in the Campus or I get involved and bring the little light I have as God's allows me. After some time in prayers, I finally decided to respond to the inner call. I went through the opening positions, and their requirements. I got confirmation that I was indeed eligible as Head Mentor_Student Representative candidate. I had only one problem, I wasn't known. A big issue since candidate would be voted. Mentor students from all campuses of our University (in Pretoria) would be present for the election. I proceeded anyway with my application. I chose a position that reflected best my immediate interest, Head Mentor_Student Representative in charge of Academic PortfolioI gave God one condition though before I submit my candidacy, 'please, you know I know no body, I would appreciate as a sign that you are in this affair that you allow that I be elected at 100%'. If you dream big, why stop with the election success? I was in for the kill. I wanted a Soviet score. 

The election day came, we were at the main Campus of Tshwane University of Technology (TUT), a distant campus from Arcadia campus where I usually attended my classes. As expected, I saw probably 1 or 2 person that I knew among the participants coming for the votes. Not a good start, I needed more than 2 votes to be elected. Darkness started falling upon me. I kept hope rationalizing that this was just the beginning and were were still waiting for other voters to arrive fort the election.

By the time the election process begun, I looked again around me and noted with horror this time that all the rest of the voters were perfect strangers! The leader of the event, a psychologist/psychiatrist by academic training involved in student life, call the room in order and explained the electorate process. All candidates of different portfolios were invited to give a speech on who they were and to present their intellectual program, followed by votes from student mentors from different campus choosing who fit best the advertised position. Different positions, there were only 5 portfolios, were presented by the leader of the electorate commission. Candidates walked on the hot-spot to pitch their programs. And the votes were casted. Then came the turn of the portfolio on academics. I was shaking and almost cursing myself for being so vain and audacious as to think that I could even be a likely candidate. I had no faith at that time and in that room. I had lost my faith.  I forgot about the book I read, and if I remembered it, I would have cursed the author. I had a good life, a uneventful life but a peaceful life nevertheless until I read him. Why did I want to put myself in a position were failure was a possibility? Why did I do it? I regretted.

My name was called. I felt as pined on my chair. They called me twice and people started looking around. The one person who knew me looked at me as if to say, 'they are calling you!' Damn it, no where to hide. I stood up and walked to the stage swallowing my fear as much as I could. It seemed as a long walk. I ran mentally through my program speech that I had rehearsed the previous day and in the morning when my faith was still alive and incendiary. I gave my small presentation to the gazing audience, trying to find a friendly face I could focus on and administrate the totality of message. My presentation ended, people applauded respectfully. Then they called the other candidates for this same position on Academics. No one stood up. They insisted, no one was there. It looked like I was the 'Candidat unique'. I was voted at 100% with no abstention. The mentor group applauded their new student representative in charge of the academic portfolio. I smiled, barely realizing what was happening. I waived confidently, greeting them with a growing confidence. My faith at that time had completely returned! Did God really answered my prayers literally? I was mildly shaking my head as I was going to the new honorific chair prepared for the winner of this position.

The year 2007 to March 2009 was indisputably one of the best years of my student life and arguably my best intellectual years yet. I practiced faith as never before in my life. My wife sometimes asks me, 'what did they give you in South Africa? You always talk about it.' I always laugh. I can't stop thinking of my life then, for I have seen God walk with me in a new and unexpected way. Matter of fact, He has never stopped doing so even when I left South Africa to Rwanda, nevertheless what I had experienced there has left a mark in my mind. Probably because it was a formative year, a learning time, a time when I did many things for the first time. Maybe that is why it has marked me so much. I have lived other incredible moment of God's actions since then - sometime even more than what I lived in South Africa, but it is always difficult to compare the current moment when the marvelous is not new with when the marvelous is first experienced.

With this I end my story-telling, as I got on to vacate into my many pending project currently awaiting my attention. Be faithful and dare to believe and to try in this new year 2018. It won't cost you to try but it would cost you regrets if you do not try. To the immortal words of Pastor Rick Godwin from San Antonio, Texas: 
'Live full and die empty'
Have a blessed, prosperous and productive New Year 2018 in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.