November 2005 Archives

John Henry Newman – Advent Poem

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They watch for Christ
who have a sensitive, eager, apprehensive mind,
who are awake, alive, quick-sighted,
zealous in seeking and honoring Him,
who look out for Him in all that happens, and
who would not be surprised,
who would not be over-agitated or overwhelmed,
if they found that he was coming at once . . .

This then is to watch:
to be detached from what is present, and
to live in the thought of Christ as He came once,
and as He will come again;
to desire His second coming, from our affectionate
and grateful remembrance of His first.

Happy Thanksgiving

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I wish everyone a very blessed and Happy Thanksgiving.

I am taking a few minutes to review what I am most grateful for and first on the list must be the mercy and goodness God has shown to be throughout my life. This has been true even when I least desired it; it seems a miracle that I would have even the merest shred of faith today, and even more that I would be looking forward to participation at Mass a little later this morning. I know that, left to my own devices, this would never have happened and I shudder to think what would.

Of course, I am grateful for wife and family and three very mischievous cats that are a constant reminder of God’s creative power and sense of humor. I understand a little better each day what St. Francis meant when he saw God’s loving had in all of creation.

I am grateful to live in Colorado. I attended my high school reunion in Detroit a month or so ago, and it now seems so foreign. Time has not been kind to my home town and I am sorry for that, but the mountains are my home. Every day in Colorado is a surprise. This morning the sunrise is soft and the ground looks fresh as if there had just been an overnight rain shower, even though it is now much more likely to snow than rain.

I am grateful to have work to do and the freedom to post my rants and raves and ramblings on this blog, and I pray that all of us will have time today to take a few moments to thank our Lord for all His gifts.

Who Knew?

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Who Knew?

We have had a heavy duty controversy going on in our Diocese over the last month or so. I think its one that is unlikely to occur in any other diocese in the country. I’ve been trying to draw some useful conclusions from it all, but to tell the truth it seems like there are no winners, only losers.

Some background is in order. As most people are aware, Colorado Springs is known as the Vatican City of the Evangelical World. There is any number of Evangelical organizations headquartered here including Focus on the Family, The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, among others. Ted Haggard, a very well known Evangelical preacher, pastors the New Life mega-church with, I think, nearly fifteen thousand members, and it is New Life Church that lies at the heart of the controversy. It seems that nearly a third of those who attend New Life are practicing Catholics.

This statistic surfaced in a newspaper story in which the executive assistant to the Bishop, Peter Howard, was interviewed by a reporter from our local newspaper. In the interview Howard made the point that Catholics should not attend Protestant worship services. A follow up story on the controversy in yesterday’s paper detailing Howard’s resignation had the following quote from the original article:

“Such ‘active participation’ in a Protestant liturgical service, therefore, acts contrary to our faith which professes fundamentally different beliefs in critical ecclesiological and theological areas,” Howard wrote.
(I recall that Howard’s remarks occurred in an interview in the Colorado Springs Gazette, however yesterday’s story said Howard made these comments in a story in the diocesan newspaper.)

There has been a tremendous hubbub in both Catholic and Protestant circles in town ever since the story appeared. Those opposed to Howard’s position claimed that “ecumenical” relations between Protestants and Catholics have been gravely harmed. Catholics who attend those Protestant services are also in an uproar. Soon after the interview was published, the bishop issued a written apology essentially disavowing Howard’s remarks.

The consequences of all this have been stunning. At the height of the controversy a priest who was the Chancellor for the diocese and the Parochial Vicar for my parish, resigned his active ministry in disagreement with the article. And yesterday the story in the paper reported that Howard himself resigned on October 31.

All this from one story (interview) that Howard himself probably did not think very important.

I hardly know what to make of all this, except to take it as evidence of our fallen nature. When I read the original story, I wasn’t so surprised at what Howard said, as I was at the statistic showing the number of Catholics in this town who attend both Protestant and Catholic services each week. I wonder what is behind this? I wonder if it’s true. I mean, what would drive that many Catholics to attend New Life Church and attend Mass on a regular basis?

Then, there is the question as to why Catholics found Howard’s comments so controversial. I thought when I read the article that, politically speaking, Howard wasn’t using a lot of common sense in making those remarks so publicly, but still, I didn’t find them all that controversial. He didn’t say these people would be excommunicated, he just said they shouldn’t do it because, in effect, their attendance at Protestant services showed their lack of concern over the differences in theology between Protestant and Catholic Christianity.

Anyway, the end result is, the bishop has lost his executive assistant, the diocese has lost a good, and much needed priest, and relations between Protestants and Catholics have been strained, at least for the time being. All this over one interview in the local newspaper. I bet poor Bishop Sheridan is wondering what hit him.


Communio Sanctorum

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I have stumbled across a blog, Communio Sanctorum, being done by a group of Protestants; I think they are primarily of the Baptist persuasion, although they have just added one Catholic writer. I find the effort highly interesting and refreshing. I highly recommend a visit to the site. The reason I find this the site so refreshing is that it represents an effort on the part of a group of Christians to get to the Truth, a very rare commodity these days. They are studying not only the foundational documents of Protestantism, but also the teachings of the Church. This is all too rare today and I think it an important effort. The site, I hesitate to call it a blog, is set up in the format of a theological journal but is not so scholarly that the ordinary reader cannot benefit from the work.

The post that caught my attention was one by one of the authors of the site who is just now in the process of reading the document by the Pontifical Biblical Commission (PBC), The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church. I think his reaction is the same as mine would have been had I stumbled across it while still a Presbyterian:

"What I find highly ironic is the way that Protestants like to portray the Roman Catholic Church as biblically illiterate, when the fact is that they are doing a much better job of synthesizing biblical scholarship and pastoral instruction than any Protestant denomination. I really question whether any Evangelical denomination would have the ecclesial resources to put together a work of this kind of sophistication. If they did, no doubt the eyes of many pastors would simply glaze over in the attempt to read it. In the Evangelical world, the church and the academy operate in separate realms (which is why Christian apologetics is in such a sorry state), whereas in the Roman Catholic Church, the academy is able to serve as a help to the Church. Though this does not always work that way, the structures are at least in place to enable it to do so."

I have been reading some things lately, things that I have just seemed to accidentally stumble onto, that have reminded me of my own conversion process. This post is one of them. What I now understand as a Catholic, and did not understand during most of my life as a Protestant, is just the conundrum written about in this post, and this became the central issue in my conversion to the Church.

If you think about it, it is not so hard to understand why this document could not be produced by any of the major Protestant denominations. It is not a lack of resources, nor a disconnect between the Church and the academy. It is part of the fundamental nature of Protestantism itself.

When the Reformation started, the core denominations formulated “Confessions”, or statements of faith. These were clear documents of the beliefs held by that denomination. (There are links to the texts of these documents on the Communiowebsite.) Over the last few decades, at least in my own denomination, the 1646 Westminster Confession of faith has been studiously and increasingly ignored. I doubt many of today’s Presbyterians have ever bothered to read it, much less understand it. Beyond these confessions, however, and as a core tenant of the faith, the individual believer has been cast adrift, every man for himself. It is central to being a Protestant that any interpretation of Scripture is up to the individual; there is no need for a Church with a real teaching authority.

This being the case, it isn’t possible for a document such as The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church to be produced by any of the major Protestant denominations. It isn’t even necessary; every man is his own authority and can trust the Holy Spirit to guide him to a correct understanding of Scripture. The irony is there, but not hard to understand. If one of the main denominations of Protestantism, say the Presbyterians, were to produce such a document, it would only be considered one opinion among many. Other Christians, and even Presbyterians, are free to say, “Well, that may be true for you, but it’s not for me.”

The way this became obvious to me is what happened over the course of about eighteen months in my own local Presbyterian church. In that relatively short time, the teaching went from solidly orthodox, Bible-based, Christian truth, to heterodox, unorthodox, secular, and almost sinful propaganda. There was what appeared to be a serious attempt to remove God from the picture altogether. For a church that claimed both versions of Christina teaching were solidly Bible based was clearly an untenable situation, both intellectually and spiritually. That is what triggered my short trip back to Rome.

The thing that makes the PBC document so special is that it is produced by a teaching Church. It is not an academic exercise in support of the Church; it is the Church exercising its inspired authority to guide the faithful in the way of truth. It is doing for the believer what he cannot do for himself without a great deal of study and effort.

The PBC document is wonderfully rich in terms of insight and understanding; it is a gift of the Church to all believers. The other wonderful thing is that there are so many of these documents produced by the Church, documents that both Protestants and Catholics can benefit from in reading and understanding. From the Catechism, going through the documents of Vatican II, to the Encyclical Letters of John Paul II, there are documents enough to study and pray over for a lifetime. That, to me, is what Church is all about.

I applaud the effort of the writers over at Communio to get back to the true teachings of Christianity. I have to wonder if this will not lead some of them to the Church, but even if it doesn’t this is a great effort and I hope a good many Christians will spend some time sharing their journey.

The Cowboy vs the Special Ops Director

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I have just completed a twelve or fourteen week workshop on novel writing and now have about twelve to fifteen thousand words of my mystery written. Perhaps, it’s fairer to say I have about twelve to fifteen thousand words of my mystery in first draft form. It’s a mess.

My problem is my main character, Joseph P. Morgan, forensic accountant and part-time, third generation rancher. The conventional wisdom is crafting a protagonist is that he or she must be strong, intelligent, and determined in fighting crime and capturing the criminal, usually a dangerous murderer. On the other hand, the conventional wisdom says the author should try to show the personal foibles and weakness of this character. The hero or heroine should have obstacles, both external and internal, to overcome in their pursuit of justice.

This is all well and good, and perfectly understandable, but in the hands of some writers, it leads to a main character that is hopelessly incompetent. The reader wonders how in the world the guy ever managed to get up in the morning, much less overcome an intelligent, ruthless and generally nasty adversary. One reason I chose to make my hero a cowboy and rancher is to draw on the legend of the West, the self-reliance, strength, that every western hero has to display. I hoped that this would provide a protagonist who is, at the very least strong, competent, and believable as a tracker down of criminals. The problem I’m struggling with is that Joe Morgan is coming across as a stereotype of the old west cowboy, and not a real person.

The other part of my problem is that I’ve created another character to serve as a friend and advisor to my protagonist. This guy has a PhD in history from the University of Michigan, has recently retired from a career in the “U.S. Department of State”, and a serious background in U.S. Army Special Operations activities. In his retirement, he has started work on the definitive biography of John Quincy Adams. And, oh, by the way, he only has one hand, his right, and wears a hook on the stump of his left wrist. The thing is that everyone who has read what I have so far thinks that my historian character is stronger and might be a better lead than Joe Morgan.

This is probably a fair assessment, but I’m not sure what to do about it. I think I’m kind of burned out on the book and need to put it aside for a while, especially after fourteen weeks of intense concentration on it. I have become too wrapped up in the story and need to back away for a while. Since Advent is coming up, I’m going to try focusing on more general writing and reading. One thing I hope to do is spend Advent returning, or rekindling my Franciscan roots. I think I’ll have more on that in a later post.

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