Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Loss of liberal Christianity.

I was just at a meeting and, even though I know it's dangerous to publicly criticize nowadays because it may be offensive, I will risk it because of larger implications. I'll at least make an effort not to unveil the group with whom I was meeting.

The point of the discussion, basically, was that liberal Christianity was the way to go. Why? Because conservative Christianity is bad. Of course, I kept thinking the whole time that if both liberal and conservative christians hadn't left the Catholic church, almost all the issues our speaker was addressing would be solved.

What is really at issue for liberal catholics, according to this speaker, is that we need a "broadbased coalition" to bring together "disperate viewpoints" and allow for multiple "truths". I may know that there is truth in Christianity but that doesn't mean that Christianity is the only truth. I was on board with him until here.

There is where, in my own opinion, he oversteps his authority. He basically asks how he can be certain that others aren't saved. He says Christians need to allow that others ARE saved in following their own path. That's a game I like to call, "not my job." I didn't die for your sins, Christ did. I didn't open the gates of heaven, Christ did. I get really frightened when any Christian for whatever reason believes he or she can tell others that they know they are or aren't saved. We don't know yet. We have hope, don't get me wrong. But, I can't honestly turn to a Buddhist who may or may not believe in God and say that I know you are saved.

Ultimately according to this speaker, we are judged by what we do, ironically the complete antitheses from what Luther and Calvin had as their reasons for leaving the church. It's sola fides, faith alone, by which we are judged, right? Not any more. Now it's sola labora, works alone since we don't want to condemn the non believer.

I give thanks every day to three people for making me catholic: Jesus Christ and Jim and Jean Miller. If I wasn't Catholic, I might actually believe this dribble. As it was, I walked out of the room and banged my head against the wall out of concern for the lost souls that believe this.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Where is the newborn King of the Jews?

I hate this time of year. It’s time for me to start gathering together all my financial information from this past year in order to prepare my taxes. I am, by nature, not very organized so it always takes me longer than really necessary to do this and each year, I resolve that this will be the year that I get organized and am ready when tax time comes around. And, don’t get me wrong, I will not be the one doing my taxes on April 14th. They will be done long before that. But, I know that these next few weeks will include several hours of number crunching and looking for that one receipt from Hawaii that could be a deduction only ending when I hand a stack of forms to my tax preparer hoping that she will find a way to get me the biggest deduction possible.

We come to this celebration that, for all intents and purposes, ends the Christmas season in the church and echo the question of the magi, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?” This celebration, in many ways, mirrors the story of St. Thomas after Easter, in that we are told about people who receive answers to the most profound question of our life, God’s existence. You may remember from the story of Thomas that he was not present with the apostles when Jesus first appeared to them after his three-day-death in the tomb. Thomas, in jealousy, denies that Jesus appeared to them as though the apostles were playing some kind of sophomoric prank on their absent friend. It wasn’t until a week later, when the doors were locked where the disciples were gathered and Jesus appeared to them again, that Thomas finally believes despite not probing his wounds. Today, the magi stand in the place of the apostles and tell us that they have seen the newborn king of the Jews. We, “Thomases”, echo their question, “Where is he?”

This timeless question grips the most pious and the most agnostic of us all. If God has been so present in history, as we hear in the readings whenever we come to church, why is he not as present today? Undoubtedly, some of you ask this question in your witness to hurricane Katrina and the service you provided for the people of New Orleans over the Christmas holiday. Others of you may wonder how a God who is love allows a terrible situation like September 11th take place and the wars that have followed killing tens of thousands of Iraqi’s, Afghani’s and American lives. Others may, for whatever reason, simply feel more the absence than the presence of God. All of this leads us to ask the question, “Where is the newborn King of the Jews?”

In this light, we come to this celebration and receive an answer that doesn’t always make sense. We are told to see Christ in the Priest who stands in the place of Christ as shepherd of the community; to see Christ in the Word proclaimed, to see Christ in the gathered community where two or three are gathered in his name, and most preeminently in the body and blood that gathers the community together. And, yet, even as we are told this we ask that fundamental question of how we see God in these things that don’t always seem so God-like: Priests abuse, the Word is confusing, the community sins against one another, and the eucharist looks and tastes like simple bread and wine. This is where we are to look for the answer to that deepest of questions regarding the presence of God? Where is the newborn King of the Jews?

Perhaps the search is the point. If God’s presence were as simple to find as knowing which star to follow, wouldn’t we all be disappointed? Wouldn’t it feel a little too shallow to really be able to see the all-transcendent God who created heaven and earth, the universe and all it holds? We trust that, when we gather together whether as a family, prayer group, or parish, God is with us. We trust that, when we hear the word of God, God is with us. We trust that, despite the wound the priesthood has been dealt in this country, priests remember that there is a reason we call them Father. We trust that what we receive each week is not just bread and wine but is the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. We are not being taunted by the Magi today, we are being invited to journey with them in search of the Christ, the King of the Jews.