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Theological Virtues

Did you know that faith, hope, and love are gifts from God?  Our catechism says of these theological virtues, “They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life (#1813).” The word merit causes angst in our separated brethren, but it means simply worthy. We are worthy of eternal life because we accept God’s gifts. Of course, we also have a responsibility once we accept them to “work out our salvation in fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12) because we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works (Ephesians 2:10) since “Faith without works is dead (James 2:17). They are both a gift and a task, and they work in concert.

My favorite philosopher Peter Kreeft illustrates the theological virtues several ways. He calls faith, hope, and love heaven’s actual gate, not just the way to get to the gate. He calls them the glue that attaches us to God and a three-legged stool that supports the whole Christian life. He calls faith the root, hope the stem, and charity the flower. He connects them: faith without charitable works is dead and without hope is impossible; hope without faith is wishful thinking and without love is selfish; love without faith is merely feelings and without hope is desperation. Like a pretzel.

The oft-memorized John 3:16 is a perfect example of the theological virtues moving from God to man: “For God so loved the world (love), He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes (faith) in Him will not perish but have everlasting life (hope).” Our belief moves us to act upon these gifts and live as children of light (Ephesians 5:8).

“Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to sir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another all the more as you see the day drawing near (Hebrews 10:22-15).” We are to take these theological virtues and do things: hold fast, help each other, perform good works, meet together. This will transform ourselves and the world; God’s kingdom will come.

“We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. For we know, brethren beloved by God, that he has chosen you, for our gospel came to you not only in word but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction (1 Thessalonians 2:2-5).” What a wonderful mix of God’s love and faithfulness with his people’s labors of love and hope. Not mere assent, but conviction and action. That is how we can walk as children of light. This is our responsive obligation to God and his kingdom for the theological virtues he pours into us at baptism. This is how we nurture them to maturity as we run the race with perseverance.

And we do not even have to work and run on our own. The Holy Spirit is our Comforter, sent to teach, convict, remind, and comfort us on this road that faith opens up for us. Pope Francis concludes
Lumen Fidei  (The Light of Faith) with a reminder that Jesus is the center of it all and a request of Mary to pray for us: “Mother, help our faith! Teach us to see all things with the eyes of Jesus, your Son, our Lord” We are also surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, all of us looking to our Lord, the author and perfecter of our faith.

Because these virtues are infused by God, I am humbled and mindful of my smallness near the great I Am who knows me and wants me to be happy with him forever. I am amazed and grateful that the Creator loves me and gives me gifts that will draw me closer to him. I am serious and attentive to the work involved in keeping these gifts supple and useful for the kingdom of God. When creation is fully renewed with a new heaven and new earth, there will be no more need for faith and hope, for we will have Jesus ever with us. But love will go on forever. Maranatha.

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Resting in the Blessing of God’s Presence

My daughter, Addie, a blessing of God's presence

Addie (our five year old daughter with cystic fibrosis) had another clean culture last month: normal respiratory flora and normal vitamin levels. We’re all happy she’s had such good luck. And I do call it luck, not blessings or hard work paying off. I don’t know why saying, “We’re blessed,” bugs me so much. I know that all good things come from God. I also know that some Christians have terrible problems. The ending of Hebrews 11 (verses 32-40) tells of those who had miracle lives and those who “did not receive what was promised.” After all, Christ Himself said that the heavenly Father, “makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” God does not bless Addie more than Rees (our twenty-two year old with cystic fibrosis who has had more trouble with his health) and I do not work harder at taking care of her than I did Rees.

The chapel in our hospital where I have prayed in good times and in bad times, always resting in the blessing of God's presenceI’ve knelt in our hospital’s chapel after a CF clinic visit with a kid and given thanks together; and I’ve knelt in there alone, having signed over a kid upstairs for an admission. Tears both times, the crucifix and tabernacle before me a physical reminder of life’s true love and pain. I turn to God in good luck and in bad luck through this journey from womb to earth and beyond. We all get through on our own trajectory and Eternal Love surrounds us whatever the lab reports read. That surrounding by God is his blessing.

I don’t think to be blessed by God means health and prosperity. I think it means that we are watched by our Creator throughout this valley of the shadow of death where we fear no evil because he is there to comfort us. We are blessed, then. When the lab reports come back badly, we are blessed; and when they come back clear, we are blessed. He is with us.

I did a little digging on the word Blessed and found that it is used in the Scriptures several ways:

  • To praise God: Bless the Lord oh my soul.
  • As a desire for goodness: Blessed are you among women.
  • For sanctification: He took bread and blessed it.
  • As a gift: Children are a blessing.

I did not look these up to be an annoying know-it-all, though! I needed to make sense of things. And my studies blessed me (haha, yes).

A friend of mine lost her son last month and a friend of hers wrote about the question of blessings for some and not others (Why Us and Not Her?). We’re all trying to make sense of things, aren’t we? I wonder if I bristle at reports of health blessings because of the reminder that some are not blessed that way and the unfairness of it all exhausts me. It is still a good word, however, because it brings our focus back to God, so I need to not bristle (Help, Holy Spirit!).

I hope and pray for all of us, my Sistas, that we rest in the blessing of God’s presence in good luck and in bad luck. May we keep our eyes on Jesus this week especially ~ passion of Christ, strengthen us.

Psalm 23:4

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Was the Eucharist Ever a Little Snack?


An acquaintance recently joked, “
-slippery slope! The Eucharist started out as ‘snack time’ for the Catholics and look where that went!

I’m not sure he knows how a slippery slope works.

The Eucharist is a Christian teaching that has remained constant for 2000 years. That is no slippery slope. The real slide is on the protestant side, slipping away from His Church (John 16:13; Matthew 16:18; Matthew 28:16-20) with thousands of competing denominations all claiming to be “Bible only.” The Eucharist has been the pinnacle of our services since Acts; they are the ones who have slid into little snacks. I don’t care if he doesn’t believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but I do care when Church teaching is misrepresented.

The Eucharist has never been “snack time.” About an hour of reading the first Christian writers (If one can stop after only an hour; we couldn’t!), beginning with the Gospels and epistles, then onward 300 years until the New Testament was codified (and on and on …) makes it crystal clear that these men believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the bread and wine. And these were the same men who picked and prayed our New Testament into life.

The apostles were Jews. They knew about manna from heaven. They knew what the Passover was ~ the sacrifice of the innocent lamb whose blood saved them from death. They ate their lamb. They watched Jesus bless food, break it, and feed 5000. He told them to eat His flesh in John 6. When some left out of horror, Our Lord said again that they had to eat His flesh. At the Last Supper, when He lifted up the Passover bread and wine and said, “This is My Body; this is My Blood,” they were floored. They got it. After the resurrection, with some disciples in Emmaus, He was known in the breaking of the bread (Luke 24:30-32). Paul told the Corinthians that they would be guilty of a sin against the Lord, his body and blood, if they came unworthily (I Corinthians 11:27-29).

The Didache, a catechism written in the 90’s (yes, the 90’s!), directs Christians to confess their sins before partaking in the Eucharist so that the sacrifice would be pure. Since the sacrifice of Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, what He did 2000 years ago is just as efficacious now. He is our perfect sacrifice for sin!

Ignatius of Antioch, writing in the year AD 110, said that he desired the Eucharist, the flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Justin the Martyr, AD 100-165, wrote, “For not as common bread nor common drink do we receive these; but since Jesus Christ our Savior was made incarnate by the word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so too, as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by Him, and by the change of which, our blood and flesh is nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.”

And on and on they wrote of the Real Presence of Jesus in the bread and wine, long before the New Testament was even bound and called sacred by Church councils. Men like Irenaus of Lyons, Tertullian, Origen, Clement, Augustine, and the council of Nicaea. The first Church council was in Jerusalem, recorded in Acts 15, when the question of circumcision was hashed out by Church leaders, then explained to the people. We believe what Jesus said to the Twelve in John 16, that the Holy Spirit would guide them into all truth. He still does. And we still follow. 

So I encourage my non-Catholic friends as they insult the Church, to at least make sure the facts are straight. When you falsely say that the Eucharist began as a little snack, your entire witticism falls apart.

To know what the Catholic Church teaches, go to its catechism online or pick up a print copy. Those of us who love our Church will call out blatant untruths and bad jokes. And tell good ones about ourselves!

Want to read some good Catholic jokes? Click here and here.


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Boob Tube Homeschooling

Our Alaskan sun begins shining through the windows again in February and stirs desires for planting and prettiness that the still-deep snow squelches. Because I get a little burned out this time of year, I purchase Shiny Things for the children to plug into the television, then send them off on inspired, educational rabbit trails. This is not because I want to lock them in the den and do my own thing; quite the contrary. I watch with them. They love that part. It is because I’m tired of last August’s perfect plans. After math –I never renege on math– here are a few things I’ve purchased recently and some of the activities that sprang from them:

Fantasia 2000 spurred an idea to separate the kids into different corners with a sketch pad and colored pencils. While a piece of classical music played (not one from the film), I told them to draw anything that came to mind (not one from the film). Some drew designs, some drew scenes, and some drew monsters.

Reading Rainbow DVD on music got the kids creating their own version of Stomp. Loud but lovely. Also, the conductor from the orchestra segment said something profound about each musician holding back a bit of breakout talent for the ordered beauty of the orchestra. It made me think about reigning in a bit for the good of the family.

Liberty’s Kids spawned writing assignments and role-playing and hilarious British, German, and Scottish accents. Whom did you like the best ~ John Paul Jones? Van Steuben? Dr. Warren? Why? What was he like?

Schoolhouse Rock gets them singing all the songs. It’s awesome and it’s enough.

Beatrix Potter short films bring to life her little books. They are sweet, proper, mischievous, but never crass. I had the children do some nature journaling every day for a week in the same spot, hoping to foster some observation. Some drew bugs, some drew our farm animals, some made up stuff, and one cried that he didn’t see anything.

National Geographic VHS tapes to play on a 23 year old TV bomb with a VHS player. If you have a newer model, I guess you’ll have to stream! Find the place on maps and globes, draw the outline of the land and animal, and write three facts you learned.

Animated Hero Classics by Nest Entertainment are thirty minute sketches of heroes from across time and place that incorporate clear examples of a defining virtue, as well as important facts. The set includes downloadable activity books with crossword puzzles, secret codes, coloring pages, etc. Just too easy. *Now these are expensive. We homeschool under our state’s umbrella and are reimbursed for educational expenses.

So the boob tube helps me homeschool through May, when the snow melts and things turn green up here. Then I let the earth do its teaching throughout the summer.

 

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Five Reasons Why I Love the Catechism


In the twelve years we’ve been Catholic, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) has remained dear to our entire family. Here are five reasons why:

1. It was instrumental in my husband’s conversion. Very early on in our studying of Catholicism, he bought a copy of the catechism, figuring that since he was interested in what the Church taught, he might as well go right to the official catechism. He read it cover to cover and checked every Biblical reference. He still reads it for personal encouragement and education and appreciates it more every time (He tells me!).

2. It is beautiful to read – poetic, solid, and satisfying, with footnotes from Scripture, history, and other Church documents. A random opening of my copy while writing this fell to paragraph #2842 on Christian Prayer: “When we ask to be delivered from the Evil One, we pray as well to be freed from all evils, present, past, and future, of which he is the author or instigator. In this final petition, the Church brings before the Father all the distress of the world. Along with deliverance from the evils that overwhelm humanity, she implores the precious gift of peace and the grace of perseverance in expectation of Christ’s return. By praying in this way, she anticipates in humility of faith the gathering together of everyone and everything in him who has ‘the keys of death and Hades’ who ‘is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty’.”  Magnificent. There is a footnote directing the reader to three passages in Revelation. What a devotional!

3. It covers everything, from difficult, contentious issues to heartbreaking, suffering issues to mystical, spiritual issues. Topics are neither shied-away from nor sugar-coated. We can read about sex, social justice, national laws, union with Christ, and the problem of pain (the section that brought me to my knees; see paragraphs 1499-1532.) It is something I direct my children to time and time again. 

4. It can be relied upon for instruction in our Holy Faith, for it is a “Full, complete exposition of Catholic doctrine, enabling everyone to know what the Church professes, celebrates, lives, and prays in her daily life (From the prologue by Pope John Paul II).” There are no worries about whether or not an author is faithful to the Magisterium. Jesus told the apostles, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:13)” and Paul told young Timothy how to behave within “the ousehold of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of truth (I Timothy 3:15).” A bulwark is a defensive wall; I wonder if Paul had the formidable walls of Jerusalem in mind as he pictured the Church keeping Christians safe from false doctrines. The Catechism is the continuing of the Holy Spirit’s leading of the Church as it guards the precious deposit of faith and instructs the faithful. Jesus never left a book; he left men filled with Holy Spirit, guided into truth, forgiving sins (John 20:23), and going out to teach and baptize (Matthew 28:19-20). They did write, however, and our Church in her wisdom, gathered and compiled their stories and letters into a New Testament. The Catechism is another example of her wisdom in leading Christians here on earth.

5. Jesus is central. Again, from the prologue: “In reading the CCC, we can perceive the wonderful unity of the mystery of God, his saving will, as well as the central place of Jesus Christ, the only begotten son of God, sent by the Father, made man in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior. Having died and risen, Christ is always present in his Church, especially in the sacraments; he is the source of our faith, the model of Christian conduct, and the teacher of our prayer.” How powerful and peaceful.

I encourage you, dear Sistas, if there’s not a copy on your bed stand; put one there and dig into it. I bet you’ll love it!