Category Archives: Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
Are You Where You Are Supposed to Be?
Thoughts that drive me to Jesus, and to the Cross.
10 One day spent in your Temple is better than a thousand anywhere else;
I would rather stand at the gate of the house of my God than live in the homes of the wicked. Psalm 84:10 GNT
For the entire gospel testimony is unanimous that Jesus’ words and deeds flowed from his most intimate communion with the Father; that he continually went “into the hills” to pray in solitude after the burden of the day (e.g., Mk 1:35; 6:46; 14:35, 39). Luke, of all the Evangelists, lays stress on this feature. He shows that the essential events of Jesus’ activity proceeded from the core of his personality and that this core was his dialogue with the Father.
Thus the spiritual life of the minister, formed and trained in a school of prayer, is the core of spiritual leadership. When we have lost the vision, we have nothing to show; when we have forgotten the word of God, we have nothing to remember; when we have buried the blueprint of our life, we have nothing to build. But when we keep in touch with the life-giving spirit within us, we can lead people out of their captivity and become hope-giving guides.
A good deal of my time this year has been spent contemplating the question that is the title of this post. I’ve had three distinct possibilities, three times I was a finalist for a position, and once I received a call to pastor a different church. All three interested me, and I dread the idea of having to decide between my present call and them.
But the question about where I am supposed to be is far deeper than a geographical location, or what vocation I have. In fact, the locations where we live and what we do are meaningless without the insight of “where we are” offered by the psalmist.
We have to imitate Jesus, and rely on our location in response to our God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Our identity is determined by our awareness of our proximity to God. If we know we are in HIs presence, everything else takes on a new dimension, a new meaing. Our families, our workplaces, our hobbies all become a way in which to experience God’s love, and to see the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
This is essential for the entire church – and it resolves with all of us taking our positions as ministers, as those who serve people, that they might know Jesus. Intimacy with God is the core of our spiritual leadership–it is also the core of our spiritual lives. Without interaction with God prayer, meditating on the gospel and the sacraments, there is little that we can and should attempt to do. Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI ) is correct – all we are and do flows from our intimate – yeah – intimate connection with God.
I believe that is what the psalmist knows, and puts into words… it is being there in God’s presence that is the most desirable place to be.
And then we can give people the hope we find there, with Jesus,… as they are called and drawn to the One lifted up on the cross.
Joseph Ratzinger, Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 17–18.
Nouwen, Henri J. M.. The Living Reminder (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
Who has a right to commune?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. Matthew 5:6 The Message
Twelfth, you see, that is what happens when one tries to make people pious and lead them to the right by means of commandments and laws. It only makes them worse. Thanks to such tactics, they do unwillingly and drearily whatever they do. This becomes a hindrance to God’s grace and sacrament. God neither wants to nor will he grant this grace to those who were forced, pressed, and driven to the sacrament by commandment and law, but only to hearts that long and pine and thirst for it, to hearts that come voluntarily……
(a little further Luther writes) Therefore, these words of his must be understood to refer to the labor and the burden of the conscience, which is nothing else than a bad conscience oppressed by sins committed, by daily transgressions, and by a leaning toward sin. The Lord does not drive all such people from him, as do those who teach that we must come to the sacrament with purity and worthiness. Nor does he issue a command or compel anyone to go to the sacrament, but rather he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help. The sublime sacrament must be regarded by us not as a poison, but as a medicine for the soul.10 Christ himself declares in Matthew 9 [:12], “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” The only question is whether you thoroughly recognize and feel your labor and your burden and that you yourself fervently desire to be relieved of these. Then you are indeed worthy of the sacrament.
1359 The Eucharist, the sacrament of our salvation accomplished by Christ on the cross, is also a sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for the work of creation. In the Eucharistic sacrifice the whole of creation loved by God is presented to the Father through the death and the Resurrection of Christ. Through Christ the Church can offer the sacrifice of praise in thanksgiving for all that God has made good, beautiful, and just in creation and in humanity
In some denominations, including mine, there is a concern about who should commune, and who should not. Arguments abound in regards to what it means to have a close communion policy, Argmenets and division have blossomed over this idea, of who we can allow to commune.
There is something important in this, there is a Biblical basis for denying someone the Lord’s Supper, and it is found in several places – notable 1 Corinthians 11, where it talks of the consequences of approaching the Lord’s Supper without examining yourself first.
But that examination isn’t about whether we are good enough, or getting at least a B- on doctrine test, or having our membership in the right facility. (Remember – we confess that there is only one, holy catholic and apostolic church!) Yet we always seem to make it about such self-centered things.
One of my weight loss groups talks about the idea of eating when you are at the appropriate hunger level. Not to eat just because of stress, or pattern, (aka tradition) or because it seems like time too. Eat too soon, gain weight. Eat too late, and find that you overeat – and gain weight.
I think it is the same with God – we need to learn to hunger for Him and feed on Him regularly. For some, that does mean daily reception, for others weekly. But it is based on need – not on qualification. It is for those whose souls are tormented by sin and brokenness, who realize their need for Jesus because there is no other hope.
That is why I do not understand why there are people that say there is no emergency need for the Lord’s Supper. As long as there are sinners who need to know God’s grace, who are oppressed and haunted by their pasts, there is a need for this blessing for which Jesus gave thanks, even as He offered it. Luther makes this case clear. It is worth repeating the words, “he kindly invites and encourages all who are sinners and find themselves burdened and who yearn for help.” Yearn does not indicate they would like to have it, it means they desire it, they hunger for God, they hunger for the work He does, as He draws us into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
This is where we find hope, there is where we meet God in a very unique and powerful way, and it is where we know we are welcome.
Look at the Catholic Catechism – and see the beauty we need in this! The incredible unity that is found in the Lord’s Supper, as united in Christ, we find ourselves in the presence of God the Father! (see Colossian 3:1-3)
Caught in sin? Struggling with the burden of guilt and shame? Need to know God’s love and forgiveness?
Come… and find peace at the altar of grace.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 176–177.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 342–343.
The Strongest People in Times of Crisis
Devotional Thought of the Day:
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (NLT2)
What made saints, saints? What makes the cynical, skeptical world turn its head at a Mother Teresa? What made the hard-nosed Roman Empire convert to the religion of a crucified Jewish carpenter? The world did not say: “See how they explain one another!” but “See how they love one another!” The most effective argument for Christianity is Christians who are saints, lovers. The saints are the Spirit’s salesmen. You cannot argue with a saint. He would just kiss you, as Jesus did to Judas and as He did to the Grand Inquisitor in Dostoyevski’s parable in The Brothers Karamazov. How do you fight love? You don’t. You lose. That is, you win.
Unity does not come about by polemics nor by academic argument but by the radiance of Easter joy; this is what leads to the core of the Christian profession, namely: Jesus is risen. This leads, too, to the core of our humanity, which yearns for this joy with its every fiber. So it is this Easter joy which is fundamental to all ecumenical and missionary activity; this is where Christians should vie with each other; this is what they should show forth to the world.
I encountered the reading from Kreeft first this morning and knew it would be part of these thoughts. It hits the basic thought I have about ministry and evangelism – it is not about appealing to logic and reason – it is about loving people.
Kreeft mentions Jesus allowing Judas to embrace him, and one can think of the deacon Stephen, loving the people who were torturing and stoning him. The stories of such saints are easy to find, even if they are hard to understand how people can love so completely!
Loving like this is hard, it requires sacrifice, It requires humility, it requires all the things that 1 Corinthians 13 discusses.
But then I came across Pope Benedict’s (aka Joseph Ratzinger) words, and the idea of how we can love others appears – we love them because we are united in Jesus. The death and resurrection of Christ, the purest love ever seen in history, unites us in a way that nothing else can. At the cross, we all have died to sin and been raised, without that sins eternal stain. All that was there to not love about another person has been done away with, all that remains of it is a shadow.
In the resurrection, we not only see the power of love, we are enveloped by it, transformed by it, we are united to it, united to the God who is love.
And therefore, unity is possible.
Therefore, there is hope.
You want to know how to remain strong in this time, know God loves you, then ask Him to help you love others.
It makes all the difference.
Lord, help us revel in Your love, help us soak it in, to the extent that loving others is a natural inclination. † Amen!
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 131.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 133.
Measuring a Church’s (and Its Pastor’s) Effectiveness
Devotional Thought of the Day:
41 Many more Samaritans put their faith in Jesus because of what they heard him say. 42 They told the woman, “We no longer have faith in Jesus just because of what you told us. We have heard him ourselves, and we are certain that he is the Savior of the world!” John 4:41–42 (CEV) —
1. Liturgy is for all. It must be “catholic”, i.e., communicable to all the faithful without distinction of place, origin and education. Thus it must be “simple”. But that is not the same as being cheap. There is a banal simplism, and there is the simplicity which is the expression of maturity. It is this second, true simplicity which applies in the Church
I often hear church leaders talking about how effective a church is, and I hear some trying to measure churches to determine whether this church is viable, whether it is still worth the “investment” of talent and treasure made in it over the years.
A lot of these studies are based on numerical analysis – has the church grown, have their offerings been stable, what kind of turnover has occurred among staff and other leadership. Consultants will come in and do surveys for larger churches and denominations. They, in turn, pass this information on to smaller churches, which but into the theories and lose morale, and eventually close. (That larger churches often benefit statistically from this is another story)
After all, numbers are important, and statistics tell a story that might be hard to refute without knowing the true story of the faithful. In fact, we often do not hear the stories, because the statistics seem so conclusive.
No one would have believed that a church community would have been viable in a remote Samaritan Village. Never mind that the person that got the ball rolling would have been a woman with a past. No one except Jesus.
But look at the statement they make to her! They had moved from believing in God because she had told them, to believe in God because they had experienced Him. What an amazing statement this is! One that every pastor should desire to hear! To know our people are experiencing the incredible, immeasurable love of Christ – not just hearing about it second hand!
I am not saying they go past needing the guidance of spiritual shepherds and prophets, that is part of our role, but they resonate with the teachings of Christ – they realize that God is speaking to them, especially during sacramental times, or when God is silent. Or they recognize that it is the Holy Spirit convicting them of sin, and comforting them as the Spirit cleanses and heals them.
This level of maturity makes a huge difference in a church. And it will see the church do things that go beyond logic, as they serve those around them. People will care, (and struggle when care is difficult) they will give beyond what is reasonable, they will be there when no one else would.
So how does a pastor do this? I think Pope Benedict wrote about it well. To present the gospel in a simple yet mature way. To not cheapen the masses, worship services, and Bible Studies that we give. Rather – we need to make them communicate the incredible love that God has for His people – so that they know it – so that they experience it, so that worship is full of the joy that comes, even in the midst of trauma and lament.
The more they know, the more they experience, the more mature they get, the more they can echo what the lady was told – “we are certain that He is the Savior of the World.
Therefore… out savior.
If our people know this, then we’ve done our job… and the work of the Holy Spirit through us has been effective.
Let us rejoice when we see God working hits way through our churches. And may e find a way to support it, whether it is 25 people working together in Southgate or 150 in Cerritos, or 5000 in some other place.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 122.
Is there anything on earth…like heaven?
Devotional Thought fo the Day:
“What God has planned for people who love him is more than eyes have seen or ears have heard. It has never even entered our minds!” 1 Cor. 2:9 CEV
When Gideon looked, the angel was gone. 22 Gideon realized that he had seen one of the LORD’s angels. “Oh!” he moaned. “Now I’m going to die.” “Calm down!” the LORD told Gideon. “There’s nothing to be afraid of. You’re not going to die.” Gideon built an altar for worshiping the LORD and called it “The LORD Calms Our Fears.” Judges 6:21-24 CEV
Even the atheistic philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “There comes a time when you say even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’ ” How can we understand anything of Heaven if there is nothing at all on earth to compare it to, nothing heavenly, nothing that never gets boring? Thus either Heaven is boring, or something on earth is not boring, or nothing on earth is like Heaven.
There are two parts to the answer: first, that everything on earth except agape is meant to be boring; and second, that agape is not.
So let us take up this problem: genuine art is “esoteric in the best sense”, say Rahner and Vorgrimler; liturgy is simple; it must be possible for everyone, particularly the simple, to participate. Can liturgy accommodate real church music? Does it in fact demand it, or does it exclude it? In looking for an answer to these questions, we will not find much help in our theological inheritance. It seems that relations between theology and church music have always been somewhat cool.
As I read Kreeft’s words in scripture today, I was amazed by their accuracy. We don’t understand heaven, we can’t conceive of it, even as the Apostle Paul says in the first quote.
I remember a professor quoting one of the early revivalists who said if he could give people a minute of hell, he would never have to convince them to repent. My sarcastic comment was, “but what if we could give them a glance of heaven?”
Sarcastically said then, but I’ve thought of the wisdom of it – how can we give people a taste of heaven? How can we help them know the joys of which we should sing? That which is “beyond” theology, that which defies our explanation?
How can we show them the holiness, the glory, the pure love that we will experience in heaven? How can we help them experience love beyond love, as radical as the day is from the darkest, stormiest night?
The church’s liturgy aims to do so, revealing the love of God as we celebrate our forgiveness, the Lord dwelling among us, the actions He takes to bless and transform us into His holy people, and the feast of the broken bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Jesus. The feast that celebrates the love, the feast that opens, for a few moments, a view for our souls of heaven.
I love the story of Gideon, especially the verses above. Here he is, somehow missing the miracles the Angel did, then realizing afterward the significance of being in the presence of a holy messenger. He starts to freak out, the anxiety builds as he realizes his own sin and inadequacy. His glimpse of something holy, someone from heaven, causes enormous fear.
Then the Lord God tells him to chill.
Wait – where was he?
God does speak to us still, just as He did to Gideon. One of the ways that should happen is in our church’s gathering. Even as we receive the message we will struggle with, that kills oof our sinful self, and raises us to life with the crucified Christ. Even as we struggle with that, the Lord comes to us in His feast and tells us, don’t fear, I am with you…
That is why we have a dilemma about the art of leading liturgy and the art of leading songs and hymns that accompany it. The use of the term “art” makes us think it is a showcase for the best o our talents. It isn’t!
What the art is, is not found in the musician’s talent, or the pastor, in the charisma. It is found in the communion, the communication of revealing to people they dwell in the presence of God, and helping them to hear His voice. Therein is the art, there is our target, the goal we strive for, there is our art.
There is our joy as well, for the connection is undeniable, and beautiful beyond words, as people come to know they are loved… as they feast with the Lord, knowing the joy that only comes from knowing you are loved.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 88.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 100.
Churches, Worship, and the Missing Generation?
Devotional Thought of the Day:
After a while the people of Joshua’s generation died, and the next generation did not know the LORD or any of the things he had done for Israel. 7 The LORD had brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they had worshiped him. But now the Israelites stopped worshiping the LORD and worshiped the idols of Baal and Astarte, as well as the idols of other gods from nearby nations. Judges 2:10-13 CEV
On the other hand, we must acknowledge that, together with the affirmation of this rich inheritance with its high technical demands, there is a desire to see the liturgy completely open to all, a desire for the common participation of all in the liturgical action, including liturgical singing, and this, inevitably, must put a curb on artistic requirements.
We should, then, learn what the sacraments are, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be used. We will find that there is no better way on earth to comfort downcast hearts and bad consciences. In the sacraments we find God’s Word—which reveals and promises Christ to us with all his blessing and which he himself is—against sin, death, and hell. Nothing is more pleasing and desirable to the ear than to hear that sin, death, and hell are wiped out.
When I was in High School and College, it was said that my generation (the early GenX’ers were leaving the church in droves. The worship wars were just starting to ramp up, the Seeker Sensitive movement had yet to begin, and the church changed from a place where the Gospel was preached to a place where scripture was exposited and doctrine was defended. Still to this day, there are not a lot of people in my age group in the church.
I have seen all sorts of plans over the years to reach them, and now it seems the church has given up on us, and now they mourn the Millenials not being in church. Now all sorts of ideas are being floated by boomers to reach them as if they are the last hope for the church in the world. We’ve even labeled this time as the “post-Christian” era, and strategize about how to consolidate our resources, closing churches as if the buildings were nothing more than fiscal assets, and our concern is not “return on investment” but eerily similar, where we make decisions based on a ratio membership against property value.
It is not unlike the time of the Judges, the time where a generation or two seems to be missing, and the church desperate for survival looks to consultants and business experts to guide them.
At the same time, the worship wars have gone underground, become more programmatic, and worship, whether contemporary, tradition or liturgical, has become more spectator driven and less participative. We’ve got it backward in many ways. Pastors and priests should be facing the people when they are proclaiming the gospel in the sacraments, revealing the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Worship teams should be facing the cross and altar when facilitating the worship of God, rather than standing with their back to the altar. In both cases, man is standing in the way of others being able to see and interact with God.
Pope Benedict was right, we have to put a curb on the artistic “performance” of the skilled musicians and liturgists, so that people can participate, so they can sing, so they can pray, so they can communicate with God!
This is why Luther was so adamant about people knowing how the sacraments are to be used, to comfort terrified consciousness, to communicate peace, their promises being fulfilled by the Holy Spirit as He transforms each and every one of them, from every ethnicity, from every language, from every generation.
It is this participation in worship, encouraging and empowering people to interact, not just with other believers, but together interacting with God, that was missing in the days of the judges. They didn’t share what they saw God doing in their midst in the past, in the present, and the hope of what He would do in the time to come.
They didn’t share what they saw God doing in the sacramental acts at the Tabernacle, they didn’t share in the promises of the covenant. And so the generation that followed didn’t know God, didn’t know the benefit of walking with Him, so they searched out other gods.
But they did it, one by one, family by family. What was to be passed down, the work of God, the covenant describing the relationship, was all not passed on, but simply treasured in their own hearts.
If in these days, we are to see the church revive, we have to help people see God. Older people, younger people, people of every description you can imagine. We have to help them worship the God who reveals His love, His mercy, His care to them… and not get in the way while doing it…
Let’s call them now… and plead with them, “let God reconcile you to Him….”
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 99.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 111.
The One Line in Lennon’s Imagine, that I know is wrong (and it isn’t what you think!)
Devotional Thought of the Day:
The Israelites tried some of the food, but they did not ask the LORD if he wanted them to make a treaty. 15 So Joshua made a peace treaty with the messengers and promised that Israel would not kill their people. Israel’s leaders swore that Israel would keep this promise. Joshua 9:14-15, CEV
Concern for achieving unity “involves the whole Church, faithful and clergy alike.”But we must realize “that this holy objective—the reconciliation of all Christians in the unity of the one and only Church of Christ—transcends human powers and gifts.” That is why we place all our hope “in the prayer of Christ for the Church, in the love of the Father for us, and in the power of the Holy Spirit.”
Man looks with suspicion upon God, so that he soon desires a different God. In brief, the devil is determined to blast God’s love from a man’s mind and to arouse thoughts of God’s wrath.
There was nothing that Jesus sought more than faith, except love. Faith is the necessary beginning of the Christian life, but love is its consummation
Listening to my favorite “radio” channel the other day, they played one of the songs I hate and love. Musically, John Lennon’s Imagine is right up there, and I understand the sentiment, the yearning, the great desire for there to be peace, and unity in this world.
Musically, I love the piece, it is my favorite style of music, the ballad. But what Lennon demands people to give up, doesn’t guarantee there to be real peace or real unity. For he is asking them to give up things that clearly define us, our culture, our beliefs.
Most of all there is one line that bothers me, far more than most.
I’ll get to it, in a moment. (It’s not the one you think!)
In my readings this morning, the Israelites fell into the same trap for peace. Tired of conflict, they entered into a covenant, a sacred treaty with people that was based on lies. They sought something good, but they didn’t look to God. and they fell prey to their own desires. This would become a curse to them, and to the Gibeonites for centuries.
This is what Luther was talking about, as they didn’t even bother to consult God, but made up their own mind. Satan blasted God’s love from their minds, giving them a goal, a god to pursue, and they did earn for a time, God’s wrath. ( I’ve always wondered what would have happened if they went to God and pleaded with Him to save these people? We can not ever know, but we have examples of such prayer!)
What did satan steal form them? What did he blast at? The religious structures? The doctrines of the Faith? The traditions, the laws, and promises?
No, Luther says, it is the love of God that Satan would have out of sight and out of mind.
Kreeft tells us that Jesus sought love more than faith. What are the two greatest commands?
And what do we have faith in, if not the absolute love that God has for us? He loves you, and He loves me. Absolutely! Purely! Passionately! With such love that He doesn’t ignore our sin, but He deals with it, and had planned to – from before the foundation of the world!
That is what sustains us, and that is what can create true unity, not just unity that hides conflict, but true unity and true peace. That is where the Catholic Catechism has it correct, our hope for unity is found, not in the boardroom, not in the halls of academia, but at the altar, where we find ourselves enveloped by His love.
Which brings me back to Lennon, and the line that bugs me, that I truly can’t accept. It is not the one about no religion. It is this one,
Nothing to live or die for…
Love does have something to die for, One who loves will die for the one who is loved.
Without that kind of love, the kind that sacrifices self, unity, and peace is but a dream…
One last word, that love is not something you have to dream about, for God loves us that much, that Jesus would die for you… because He loves you. And in doing so, all that would impede peace…are shed, and are left behind, as we discover this new life in Jesus.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 218.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 103.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 77.
Why “I Don’t Get it” is a good thing!
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
29 The LORD our God hasn’t explained the present or the future, but he has commanded us to obey the laws he gave to us and our descendants. Deuteronomy 29:29 (CEV)
29 Things hidden belong to Yahweh our God, but things revealed are ours and our children’s for ever, so that we can put all the words of this Law into practice.’ Deuteronomy 29:29 (NJB)
29 “The LORD our God has secrets known to no one. We are not accountable for them, but we and our children are accountable forever for all that he has revealed to us, so that we may obey all the terms of these instructions. Deuteronomy 29:29 (NLT2)
“For the true unity of the church it is enough to agree concerning the teaching of the Gospel and the administration of the sacraments. It is not necessary that human traditions or rites and ceremonies, instituted by men, should be alike everywhere.”
Although very few of those who express their uneasiness have a clear picture of these interrelated factors, there is an instinctive grasp of the fact that liturgy cannot be the result of Church regulations, let alone professional erudition, but, to be true to itself, must be the fruit of the Church’s life and vitality.
I read the verse in red in the first translation this morning. It piqued my interest because I get frustrated when I cannot understand the things going on in life. That has been happening a lot recently.
So i started looking the passage up in other translations. Sometimes that helps, sometimes I have ot go a bit deeper than that. I use the NLT in our church, and the NJB is the first full Bible I ever owned. I like it just like people who grew up with the KJV are not comfortable with more modern translations.
Turns out I like all three, but the NJB resonates the most with me.
To paraphrase it, “what God has made a mystery, these things we cannot know. That is good. The things God has revealed to us, this is what is needed for us to live in the relationship He created with us…. (at the cross) For the Law is not just the commandments, but the entire covenant, the entire description of our relationship. It is the explanation of, “I am your God, and you are my people!’
That’s the message – that is the mystery that we can’t conceive of, but we need to know is true. We have to have that, far more than why we have to understand some of the evil things that happen in this world or even the odd and unexplainable things.
Even if we understood the present or the future, could we change it?
No. Not really. We might even be more frustrated than we are with things all in the dark.
But if we know of God’s presence, HIs promise, HIs love, that changes it all…. and we can His peace and comfort in that revelation.
And this is where the two quotes about liturgy come in, for the liturgy needs to communicate God’s presence, love, and mercy above all. It cannot be the same, for it has to address the place where people are at, the struggles they face, the despair they know, and to reveal to them that they can depend on God, that He wants them to do so!
That means the liturgy may look a little different here from there. It gives expression to God coming into the presence of His people and healing them of their brokenness. And liturgy comes out of that feeling., as the people respond to the merciful, comforting loving presence of God. That is why liturgy is fruit, proof of the vitality of a congregation, proof of the truth revealed to them. And it is why those who would use the liturgy to bind the church are not protecting the church, but severely damaging it. Damaging it far more than the changes they fear ever could.
Liturgy is the expression of the faith of those who enter into worship and must always remain so. For then it gives voice to what God has revealed, and where He has not, where we don’t get it, the liturgy will bring comfort and peace.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Cinnfessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 173–174.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 86–87.
Almost Tempted to…but I can’t…
Devotional Thoughts of the Day:
After the LORD helps you wipe out these nations and conquer their land, don’t think he did it because you are such good people. You aren’t good—you are stubborn! Deut 9:4-6 CEV
Liturgy does not come about through regulation. One of the weaknesses of the postconciliar liturgical reform can doubtless be traced to the armchair strategy of academics, drawing up things on paper which, in fact, would presuppose years of organic growth.
It ought to grow and become firmer amid good works as well as temptations and dangers, so that we become ever stronger in the conviction that God cares for us, forgives us, and hears us for Christ’s sake. No one learns this without many severe struggles. How often our aroused conscience tempts us to despair when it shows our old or new sins or the uncleanness of our nature! This handwriting is not erased without a great conflict in which experience testifies how difficlt a thing faith is.
Sigmund Freud is a good example. In Civilization and Its Discontents, he argues against altruistic love as the meaning of life and the key to happiness by saying simply, “But not all men are worthy of love.” No, indeed they are not. Agape is quite defenseless against this objection. The love we are talking about goes beyond reason, and a rationalist like Freud just does not see it. We who take agape for granted because of our Christian education should realize its precariousness. There is simply no effective rational answer to the challenge: “But give me a reason why I should love someone who does not deserve it.” Love is the highest thing. There can be no higher reason to justify it.
Fourth, some say, “I would indeed have confidence that my prayer would be answered if I were worthy and possessed merit.” I reply: If you refuse to pray until you know or feel yourself worthy and fit you need never pray any more. For as was said before, our prayer must not be based upon or depend upon our worthiness or that of our prayer, but on the unwavering truth of the divine promise
The People of the “poor”—those who, humble and meek, rely solely on their God’s mysterious plans, who await the justice, not of men but of the Messiah—are in the end the great achievement of the Holy Spirit’s hidden mission during the time of the promises that prepare for Christ’s coming.
It has never happened before. From every book I read a section of in my devotional reading, something struck me important enough to put down, to consider, and to process my thoughts all together. (Spurgeon will be a later blog…but His is impressive too)
Tempting to just leave the quotes here for you to read.
They are that significant, at least to me.
But I do this to process through these works of scripture, and of other believers who struggle with faith. So I need to struggle, to let these words wrestle with my soul.
The reading from the Old Testament sets it all up and confirms what I (and probably one or two of you already know.
We aren’t good enough.
We sin, We screw up, we get hurt and contain the resentment inside us.
And if we expect God to be on our side because we are good American Christians who have better morals and values than the rest of the world, we are the most deceived people to ever live.
Kreeft and Luther tell us in following quotes that knowing this is okay. We don’t have to justify God’s loving us. God isn’t unreasonable or illogical, but His ways are beyond ours, His ways are the purest, deepest, highest love. God listens to us, our needs, our groans, our pleas, not based on how worthy we are – in fact, that is the beauty of His logic.
That is where the Catholic Catechism and Lutheran Confessions come to play, noting our struggle, noting the need for humility, noting the Holy Spirit’s miracle in bringing us to depend on God, even when our minds are convinced we cannot. If I could add another 2000 words, I would explore that more. We have got to understand that the struggle to have faith in God, when we know our brokenness, is part of the journey of faith, the journey to depend on God who is there, working in our lives. That faith isn’t some random intellectual decision that fires off, it is a miracle. It happens because of an encounter with God that goes beyond our ability to explain.
That is why Liturgy cannot be drawn up or manipulated by those in ivory offices, those disconnected from the altar where Christ’s Body and Blood come to feed the people of God. Pope Benedict is right on in that quote. Or, as Pascal noted, “GOD of Abraham, GOD of Isaac, GOD of Jacob! not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude. Certitude. Feeling. Joy. Peace.” The worship service needs to see people encounter God, be in awe of Him, afraid, and yet comforted by His love and mercy.
That can’t be observed, that can’t be experienced in some far off place in St. Louis or Rome. It happens here, where the struggle is, where we need to know He loves us, even as we are not worthy of that love. That is the message our church services, our Liturgy needs to develop by resonating it deep into the souls of the people of God.
In your soul and mine. (gulp)
Yes, this is about us… and that should stagger you… for it does stagger me.
You may never consider yourself lovable by God. You may never think you are good or worthy or holy enough for Him to listen to your prayers, to laugh and cry with you…
That doesn’t matter… HE DOES.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 81.
Theodore G. Tappert, ed., The Book of Concord the Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press, 1959), 160–161.
Peter Kreeft, The God Who Loves You (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004), 60–61.
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 42: Devotional Writings I, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 42 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 88–89.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997), 189.
Does Worship/Liturgy have to change? The Question Isn’t “if” but “why!”
Devotional Thought for the Day:
27 Then Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath. Mark 2:27 (NLT2)
6 Dear brothers and sisters, if I should come to you speaking in an unknown language, how would that help you? But if I bring you a revelation or some special knowledge or prophecy or teaching, that will be helpful. 7 Even lifeless instruments like the flute or the harp must play the notes clearly, or no one will recognize the melody. 8 And if the bugler doesn’t sound a clear call, how will the soldiers know they are being called to battle? 9 It’s the same for you. If you speak to people in words they don’t understand, how will they know what you are saying? You might as well be talking into empty space. 1 Corinthians 14:6-9 (NLT2)
For it is the existential presence of the celebrating, praying faithful which makes the liturgy into the worship of God; change is necessary so that their awareness of what is going on and of their part in it are not restricted by extraneous factors. Roman history reveals a most eloquent example of a form of worship which had become unintelligible. After three centuries no one any longer understood the ritual, the ceremonies or the meaning it was all meant to express, with the result that religion dried up and became an empty shell, although it was no less practiced than before. The lesson is that, if liturgy is to retain its vitality and have an influence on individuals and society, there must be a continual process of adaptation to the understanding of believers. For believers too, after all, are people of their time, people of their world.
Over the past 40 years, I have participated in just about every flavor of worship service and liturgy on could imagine. I have play pipe organs in my youth, and electric guitars and keyboards, done traditional non-denom worship, and straight out of the hymnal liturgy.
I have my preferences, and they would probably surprise most people who know me.
Preference laid aside, and it must be, there is only one reason to change the wording of the liturgy or the way a church worships.
It is what Paul is the very pragmatic reason Paul is discussing, in relation to the very real gift of tongues, in 1 Corinthians 14. It echoes Jesus teaching about the Sabbath.
Does your liturgy, your order of worship allow people to hear God, and does it allow them to respond to Him?
The Lutheran confessions talk of the mass’s chief purpose to give people what they need to know about Jesus. His love, His mercy, His presence in their life. What they need to know – not just with their mind, but with their heart, soul and strength.
Do the words said and sung communicate this in an understandable way? If not, reset them. Do the people have the opportunity to experience the awe of being in the presence of God and respond to Him with joy? If not renew your service, focus it on the incarnate God who loves them. Open up the lines of communication, ensure that they know God speaks to them in a way that anyone can understand.
Maintaining the liturgy that doesn’t communicate to people is a waste of time. So is changing it for any other reason is just as much a waste of time.
Lord, help us to guide your people until with heart, soul, mind, and strength realize that You love them all. And then, help us guide their discussion with you, their prayers and praises.
Joseph Ratzinger, The Feast of Faith: Approaches to a Theology of the Liturgy, trans. Graham Harrison (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 79.