Author Archives: Darryl Williams

About Darryl Williams

Skeptical Observer Looking for Permanent Fixes

October 30 – Who Can Be Saved?

The BIG Question

Discussion was around the Gospel for the day, Luke 13:23-30 which begins with someone, presumably a Jew, asking Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Here is the passage with the preceding and following verses included just for some context.

Luke 13:22-31

He passed through towns and villages, teaching as he went and making his way to Jerusalem.

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door, then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Lord, open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ And you will say, ‘We ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.’ Then he will say to you, ‘I do not know where (you) are from. Depart from me, all you evildoers!’ And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. And people will come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and will recline at table in the kingdom of God. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” 

At that time some Pharisees came to him and said, “Go away, leave this area because Herod wants to kill you.”

Response of Jesus

In the Luke 13 passage, it is not clear whether the questioner was asking about being saved to eternal life or just about surviving possible military conflict with or persecution by the Romans or other enemies or persecutors of the Jews, but Jesus ignored that issue, and shifted immediately from how many to whether or not and from event (being saved) and from process (ate and drank in your presence, taught in the streets) to relationship (I don’t know you or where you come from.)

(NABRE is in a minority here in omitting the “I don’t know you” from the translations though “I don’t know where you are from” was apparently considered an equivalent repudiation in the culture of the time. If you want to investigate, all the English translations of the verse are HERE.)

Searching the Catechism

I searched the Catechism for a simple formula for being “saved.” I didn’t find one. I guess it must be all about the relationship we have with our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, through our public Profession of Faith (Creeds), regular Celebration of the Christian Mystery (Sacraments), Life in Christ (Beatitudes, Virtues, Gifts, Commandments), and Christian Prayer (in the pattern of The Our Father). Hmm. Those bold print items are the four major divisions of the Catechism. The whole Catechism must be all about “being saved.”

The Hard Part – For Me

Assuming that is true, we can recite the creeds, show up faithfully for Mass and Holy Days of Obligation, and pray the Our Father out of habit, but, for me at least, It’s that Life in Christ, living the Beatitudes, practicing the Virtues and Gifts, obeying the Commandments, that seems impossible, at least outside the walls of The Church. Even if I stay busy doing those things, there is still the issue of motive, the secret motives of my heart. Are they selfish or unselfish, based on love or on self interest? Even St. Paul had that concern:

1 Corinthians 4:4-5 My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God. (From Monday Oct 28 Office of Readings)

In Case of Despair

But, when we despair, we can remember the promise of Jesus when his disciples asked him the same question he was asked in Luke 13: “...for God all things are possible.

Matthew 19:24-26 – Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, “Then who can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible.”

It seems fair to say that only the love of God, both His love for us and our love for God, make possible and fruitful that “striving” mentioned in Luke 13. Striving for our own benefit, without that relationship with God, must be useless. There is evidence of that even in the Old Testament, when the big question was addressed.

Isaiah 64:5-7 You come to the help of those who gladly do right, who remember your ways. But when we continued to sin against them, you were angry. How then can we be saved? All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away. No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

So, we don’t have to deny that salvation is a free gift of God and that our “works” have nothing to do with our salvation except that they are fruits of it if we, by the Grace of God, are able to say someday with St. Paul that:

2 Timothy 4:7-8 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day– and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

St. Paul seems to have had more confidence here than in his letter to the Corinthians. I suspect he had grown spiritually in the dozen years or so of faithful and selfless service between writing a letter to a new church around 56 AD and being in prison in Rome awaiting his death maybe in 68 AD.

Well, at least we may be able to say that we have striven! And that is what Jesus recommended in Luke 13.

_______________________________________

Bonus question: At this link is a non-Catholic explanation of how to be saved.  Can it work? I believe so, but what is missing from it that is important to Catholic Christians?

Suggestion 1

Suggestion 2

Suggestion 3

Suggestion 4 (Relationship through and with the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, the Body of Christ)

I’m sure that any who have read this far will think of other answers. Share them with me and I will post them below this statement. I clearly got bogged down a bit in this issue, but it is one that is of prime importance to me and just thinking and writing about it is helpful. As always, please feel free to point out any place you think I have erred.

Oct 23 – Chaos to the Church – Bible Story from 50,000 ft

Discussion today about Jeff Cavens’s Bible Timeline made me think of this chart I developed over some period of time. It is designed to illustrate salvation history, Bible time-line, and God’s revelation of Himself. Well, maybe it is the 500,000 foot level because there is not much detail. Earlier this year, I did a blog post with more explanation HERE. Read the verses. Let me know of anything I need to revise to improve the theology. Thanks to Fred Belinga for the leadership today.

St. Augustine on The Our Father

This short essay is included in the Office of Readings this morning, October 22, 2019, and it just struck me as particularly meaningful, especially the first sentence on why we use words. Given our consistent praying of the Our Father at Mass and in the Morning Prayer I decided to share it with the MPG. This is a screen shot from the Universalis APP which I recommend highly.

Oct 16 – St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans

From now through Nov 5th Mass readings include selections from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, the longest and most theologically comprehensive of his works. Much of his writing was targeted at specific current issues in the churches he served, but Romans has a great deal to say about the theology of Salvation, the Big Idea, the Main Point. For a good introduction and improved understanding, read the section on Romans in the front of The Catholic Study Bible (sample snip below). If that is not readily available, the Wikipedia article on Romans is good and includes the outline below:

Romans

outline

St Paul was brilliant, sometimes inspired, inspirational, and positive, and sometimes crabby and defensive, a Jewish Pharisee well versed in and observant of The Law and The Prophets, a man singled out and confronted by the post-resurrection Jesus for persecuting Him (The Church), a missionary to the Gentiles and founder and Father of several Churches, a persistent servant of God who planned to visit Rome, perhaps on the way to establishing more churches in Spain. Well, he made it to Rome, but as a prisoner rather than as a traveling missionary. Wikipedia also has a very scholarly article about St. Paul.

On October 16th Father Linsky focused on Romans Chapter 2 from which the Mass readings for the day were taken. As can be seen in the outline above, it is in a section about the universal corruption of Gentiles and Jews, God’s judgment, and hypocrisy. Father mentioned the first word in Romans 2, therefore, which reminded me of a pastor of a few decades ago who liked to advise his flock, “Whenever you see “therefore” in the Bible, be sure to look to see what it is there for.

Well, in this case, it is there for the purpose of humbling those who think they are superior and can’t think of anything to confess, those “who are called to belong to Jesus Christ; to all the beloved of God in Rome, called to be holy.” Paul has just completed a blistering critique, in Chapter 1, of those who had rejected God and now tells the people in the Church in Rome, Jews and Gentiles, that they are no better, that those who pass judgment on each other for perceived failures are without excuse, that they condemn themselves by doing the very same things.

The major current issue seems to have been mutual cross condemnation of the Jewish converts and the Gentile converts over whether circumcision was required of Christian Gentiles. It is informative and sobering to read these words from Paul in Romans 2:25-26: “Circumcision, to be sure, has value if you observe the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Again, if an uncircumcised man keeps the precepts of the law, will he not be considered circumcised?” It wasn’t just circumcision that divided the Church. There were also dietary and personal effort and behavior regulations.

The writings of St. Paul are challenging because apparent contradictions can be identified. For example, they contain one of the primary passages used to defend a Protestant position that we are saved by grace through faith (alone) and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so no one may boast. (Please note that the passage does not say saved by faith but by grace, through faith. And, there might be interesting discussion over whether the phrase, “and this is not from you; it is the gift of God,” refers just to “faith” or to having been saved by grace through faith.)

But, in Romans 2:16, St. Paul seemed to support a more Catholic emphasis on good works. He wrote that, “God will judge people’s hidden works through Christ Jesus.” St. James chimes in later with some clarification: James 2:14-17  What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also faith of itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (It is also worth considering how the Jewish “works of the law” are different from what we identify today as “corporal and spiritual works of mercy” aligned with the Two Greatest Commandments and other direct instructions of Jesus.)

And, by the way, the Wikipedia article on Romans has a section labeled Catholic Interpretation. Check it out and see if you agree.

Questions and issues such as these can be used to illustrate the difference between Systematic Theology and Biblical Theology. Here is an article with helpful discussion of the difference. I  love it because I always say that I enjoy looking at the Bible from 50,000 feet more than digging into short passages or verses. So, 15,000 feet is about the same. I recommend the entire article.

“…another way to imagine systematic theology is that it is a 15,000 ft view of the Bible. Imagine you are on top of a mountain, and below you is scripture laid out from beginning to end. You can make a lot of connections this way!”

“But biblical theology takes a different approach. This time, you are seeing the Bible from the ground. You traverse hills, wander in the desert, and cross rivers. Instead of plucking ideas from Genesis, Matthew, and Revelation to make one statement about God, you only make statements based on what is right in front of you at a given moment.”

I have clear memory of the instructions of the Greek/NT professor at the seminary explaining that when writing a paper on Romans Chapter 2, for example, don’t include references to anything but Romans 2 except perhaps parallel writings of the same author. Focus on what that text says, it’s literary form and structure, any translation or grammar issues, important words, the context within which it was written, and what the words meant to those who wrote and read them. So, looking at James while writing about Romans would be a violation of that principle and more Systematic rather than Biblical theology.

Both approaches have great value, but some of us are just big picture folks and some love digging into the details. I would point to the Catechism of the Catholic Church as a good example of Systematic Theology based on Sacred Scripture and other early traditions and teachings of the Church (which, by the way, do not violate Sacred Scripture).

It will be helpful when reading from Romans over the next few weeks to remember who Paul was and consider whatever we are reading in the context of the full Epistle and in the context of all of Sacred Scripture, the full revelation of God, the whole story from chaos through creation, the fall, the call of Abraham, the progress from polytheism through henotheism to monotheism, the Law and the Prophets, the Incarnation, the Passion and Resurrection, to The Church.

 

October 9, 2019 – The Catacombs

Thanks to Father Fryml for discussion of his recent pilgrimage to Rome with special emphasis on the Catacombs, burial places around Rome of many Christian martyrs with displays of important early Christian art.

In the Catechism

I checked the Catechism to see what references might be therein about the Catacombs. The word is found in only one place, the section on The Eucharist, and it is a reference to the art found in the Catacombs.

1368 – The Eucharist is also the sacrifice of the Church. the Church which is the Body of Christ participates in the offering of her Head. With him, she herself is offered whole and entire. She unites herself to his intercession with the Father for all men. In the Eucharist the sacrifice of Christ becomes also the sacrifice of the members of his Body. the lives of the faithful, their praise, sufferings, prayer, and work, are united with those of Christ and with his total offering, and so acquire a new value. Christ’s sacrifice present on the altar makes it possible for all generations of Christians to be united with his offering. In the catacombs the Church is often represented as a woman in prayer, arms outstretched in the praying position. Like Christ who stretched out his arms on the cross, through him, with him, and in him, she offers herself and intercedes for all men.

 

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

There is a discussion of the catacombs from a Catholic viewpoint in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, lots of interesting information hidden in long and wordy paragraphs. you can read it HERE. I just wish they had better editors and some way to hide the multiple hot-links for easier reading.

Helpful Definitions:

  • alluvial deposits – materials deposited by rivers – not suitable for catacomb construction
  • tufo – soft volcanic rock from which the catacombs were carved (example below)

There is a more-informative and easier-to-read article from Church-Pop, a very strange and suspicious sounding name, which turns out to be “part of the EWTN network” and “under the spiritual patronage of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.” Check it out at the link below. Lots of pictures of the ancient art and simple explanations.

A Tour of the Ancient Christian Art of the Roman Catacombs

It is interesting that the Catholic Encyclopedia states that, “The catacombs are, therefore, entirely of Christian construction,” while the EWTN link states that by the second century burial in such places had “started to become fashionable for Romans,” even though “These underground tombs, or catacombs, were most famously used by early Christians for burying their dead, particularly martyrs, and sometimes for celebrating the divine liturgy.”

If you find out the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, tell me where to look.

Apparently there are forty to sixty such underground chambers, some many kilometers long, but only four are open for tours. Today all are under the jurisdiction and care of the Vatican.

We were in Rome in 2006 but missed the catacombs. They will be top priority if and when we return.

Darryl

Oct 2, 2019 – The Catechism on Angels

Angels in the Catholic Catechism

I fully understand Father Linsky’s comments about the time he spent studying about angels before our October 2 MPG meeting. After all, here it is eight days later before I post anything. It’s not an easy subject. I started out looking at all the approximately 500 uses of the Hebrew and Greek words often translated as Angel in English Bibles. That is a long list and is complicated by the fact that the words are sometimes translated as “messenger” instead of angel. Sometimes they are used in the phrase, “messenger of the Lord” and I’m wondering if that is synonymous with angel.  So I gave up on that approach and am going to focus on the Catechism to try to be sure I don’t stray too far from Catholic tradition.

If you aren’t using the Vatican online Catechism, you are missing a wonderful resource. I usually begin with this alphabetical word list index which is found at: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/_FA.HTM

If you are interested in angels, just click on the A and get a list of all words found in the Catechism beginning with A. Scroll down till you find angel. Here is the section that includes angel and angels as well as other curiosities such as Anglicans and andmultiply. Oh well, I guess that proves the Vatican, or at least their programmers are not infallible. By the way, the word Anglicans shows up only in a footnote for some document by John Henry Cardinal Newman. From this list we also learn that the word and shows up 7,930 times in the Catechism. It would be 7,931 without the following concatenation error.

Since angels is found 60 times and angel only 24 times, I clicked on angel to get this list of the 24 instances, all with hot links.

Looking over the list, it is easy to see that there is a lot of information about angels in 329. Clicking on the first of those, we learn that 329 is in Paragraph 4 on the Creeds and references the creation of heaven and earth in the Apostles’ Creed and of all that is seen and unseen in the Nicene Creed. So, angels are part of the creation. Below is copied the section on the Angels, the teaching of the Catholic Church. Please enjoy it.

THE ANGELS

The existence of angels – a truth of faith

328 The existence of the spiritual, non-corporeal beings that Sacred Scripture usually calls “angels” is a truth of faith. the witness of Scripture is as clear as the unanimity of Tradition.

Who are they?

329 – St. Augustine says: “‘Angel’ is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is ‘spirit’; if you seek the name of their office, it is ‘angel’: from what they are, ‘spirit’, from what they do, ‘angel.'”188 With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they “always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven” they are the “mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word”.189

330 – As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendour of their glory bears witness.190

Christ “with all his angels”

331- Christ is the centre of the angelic world. They are his angels: “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him. . “191 They belong to him because they were created through and for him: “for in him all things were created in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.”192 They belong to him still more because he has made them messengers of his saving plan: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?”193

332 – Angels have been present since creation and throughout the history of salvation, announcing this salvation from afar or near and serving the accomplishment of the divine plan: they closed the earthly paradise; protected Lot; saved Hagar and her child; stayed Abraham’s hand; communicated the law by their ministry; led the People of God; announced births and callings; and assisted the prophets, just to cite a few examples.194 Finally, the angel Gabriel announced the birth of the Precursor and that of Jesus himself.195

333 – From the Incarnation to the Ascension, the life of the Word incarnate is surrounded by the adoration and service of angels. When God “brings the firstborn into the world, he says: ‘Let all God’s angels worship him.'”196 Their song of praise at the birth of Christ has not ceased resounding in the Church’s praise: “Glory to God in the highest!”197 They protect Jesus in his infancy, serve him in the desert, strengthen him in his agony in the garden, when he could have been saved by them from the hands of his enemies as Israel had been.198 Again, it is the angels who “evangelize” by proclaiming the Good News of Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection.199 They will be present at Christ’s return, which they will announce, to serve at his judgement.200

The angels in the life of the Church

334 – In the meantime, the whole life of the Church benefits from the mysterious and powerful help of angels.201

335 – In her liturgy, the Church joins with the angels to adore the thrice-holy God. She invokes their assistance (in the Roman Canon’s Supplices te rogamus. . .[“Almighty God, we pray that your angel…”]; in the funeral liturgy’s In Paradisum deducant te angeli. . .[“May the angels lead you into Paradise. . .”]). Moreover, in the “Cherubic Hymn” of the Byzantine Liturgy, she celebrates the memory of certain angels more particularly (St. Michael, St. Gabriel, St. Raphael, and the guardian angels).

336 – From infancy to death human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession.202 “Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.”203 Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God.

That is a lot of information, so I’m quitting for now, even though fallen angels show up in 391-395. I hope some of you will enjoy poking around in the Catechism looking for treasure. 

Extra Credit Reading Assignment

Given the discussion yesterday about Ezra and associates and the freeing of the Jews of Judah to return from captivity in Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild the destroyed temple, and given the Office of Readings Ezekiel reading today about some future reunion of the divided kingdoms, Israel and Judah, I just started poking around on the internet and found two very interesting write-ups on Jewish history of that time.

One is a very secular description on Wikipedia, no mention of God at all, but the same basic history we read in the Old Testament. You can read the article HERE and below are a map and a teaser quip from it. This secular description can give us confidence in the accuracy of OT accounts.


The second is by a Church of God (Fundamentalist I suppose) pastor who views the whole story as we do, events happening and yet to happen in fulfillment of prophecy. I’m not suggesting all he says is fundamental truth but am suggesting that reading his essay sheds interesting light on some issues most of us never think about or are even aware of. You can find his very readable essay HERE.

Just for a little more context, here is a chart you have seen before, the Abraham to Jesus timeline. Note the division of the Kingdom about midway.

In the Catechism

If you haven’t ever searched the Catechism online, HERE is the place to do it. Just use the alphabetical listing to search for any word.

The word Israel shows up 101 times.

The word Jerusalem shows up 68 times.

The word Judah, the name of the Southern Kingdom, shows up zero times. That is interesting. Same as Babylon and Cyrus. Ezra shows up twice but only as names of the OT Book.