More Than a Fairy Tale (5.6.2017)

Scripture Readings

I love storytelling.  Not that I’m a particularly accomplished storyteller.  I’ve met people who can turn ordinary, daily activities into riveting tales of anguish, joy, hope, and victory.  They can take a two-minute story and captivate their audience for fifteen minutes.  That gift of storytelling intrigues me.  I’m attracted to stories and how they are told.  Thus, I take them in however I find them.  Whether they are stories told with friends over a meal, on the pages of a book, from episode to episode on a TV show, through the playing of a game, or watching a movie (and yes even some musicals and plays), I love the side of our humanity that tells stories.  In many ways, I think it models God, who I fervently believe is a master storyteller, but today’s readings remind me that the Lord is so much more than that.

The greatest temptation I face when seeing God as a Divine storyteller outstripping Tolkien, Patterson, Austen, or Homer is that I can make my faith the discovery of things that are neat.  It is the neat, the novel, the ingenuous, and the inventive that sets​ great storytellers apart from the rest.  It might be a neat way of letting a moviegoer know what the main character is thinking by giving him a voice recorder into which he speaks.  It could be the inventive depth of Tolkien’s world (and its various languages).  The novel way the author foreshadows the climatic stand-off between good and evil.  Or it could be an ingenious plot twist.  These things are great and salvation history contains many of them because God is a master storyteller.  We call the character’s inner dialogue consciousness and conscience.  The invented world is the creation we inhabit.  The study of God’s clever foreshadowing is called typology (the study of how Old Testament events and people prefigure what is to come in Christ and the Church).  And the plot twist is the Resurrection.

However, the temptation is to let all this creative storytelling and cohesive design become like any other story we can critique and analyze.  Instead of being scandalized by the idea of God becoming like one of us to save us from death and raise us to himself I’m tempted to think, “That’s neat.”  That is when I need Gospel passages like today’s.  I need the moments when Jesus reminds us that this is more than a fairy tale.  That He is real and He is both Storyteller and Story.  I need to be reminded that while a compelling read like Unbroken demands a reaction (maybe even a review), Jesus demands a response.  Today’s gospel reminds me that Jesus isn’t just a neat and a tidy way to wrap up the story that started in a garden with a character named Adam.  He has the words of Eternal Life because He is the Eternal Word.

The author Neil Gaiman (while paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton) once wrote, “Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”  The same can be said for the Gospel.  Jesus’ words are spirit and life, not because they tell us the Dragon exists, but because they tell us the Dragon is beaten.  Our foreshadowed climatic stand-off is the Cross and the Resurrection of the one who has the words of Eternal life.

Our God is a master storyteller, but his story is so much more than neat.  It is life-giving.

Opening the Way (4.15.2017)

Today’s Mass readings are for the Easter Vigil tonight, but I want to give us time to focus on Holy Saturday.  With that desire, I’ll be reflecting on two passages that are being used at a service at Immaculate Conception this morning, the Ephphatha and Naming Rite for those in RCIA.  During the Rite, Isaiah 62:1-4 and Mark 7:31-37 will be proclaimed and so we’ll use those passages.

Mantegna, 1490, 14As my eyes fell on the first lines of Isaiah I was reminded of Christ lying in the tomb, seemingly silent and still, but we would do well to not be fooled.  His body might have been as silent as the grave and still as stone, but this is when we traditionally imagine Jesus invading the realm of the dead and causing it to burst at its seams.  It cannot restrain the Author of Life and we see that on display tomorrow with the vindication of the resurrection.

Jesus doesn’t do this to vindicate himself and stick his tongue out mockingly at those who put him on the cross.  No, he is far more honorable than that.  He does it to vindicate those who, in death have been called ‘forsaken’ and ‘desolate.’  For they have been in the ‘pit,’ to use the language of the Psalmist.  He calls them up to give them a new name, and restore them.  The image that comes to mind is Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings going down into the land of the dead to restore the standing and honor of the souls trapped there.  The image diverges when we see Aragorn calling upon them to fight for him since Jesus calls us to live in the victory he already won, but it is still a good image.  The rightful, living king, calls up the ‘forsaken’ souls from their ‘desolation.’  He calls them, and all of us, for we too will die, to follow him to the dwelling place that he has prepared for us.  He calls us ‘espoused’ and he is the bridegroom who prepares our dwelling.

Does this mean this feast has no relevance for us now?  No, it foreshadows what the Lord wishes to do for us and reveals what he presently does for us.  This brings us to the Gospel, where Jesus speaks (or rather groans) the ironically difficult ‘Ephphatha (let it be opened).’  How interesting that he does this in a region called the Decapolis.

The Decapolis was a gentile region set apart by its culture, and language.  It was in this linguistically distinct region that Jesus heals a man’s organs of language.  He restores his belonging by opening his ears and healing his tongue.  Not just by speaking ephphatha, but groaning it.  It is that same idea of groaning that runs all throughout Romans 8:28-39.  The climatic end of all that groaning is St. Paul’s assurance of our belonging: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Isn’t this what Jesus does by rupturing the place of the dead?  Doesn’t he open the way?  Does he not vindicate us from the forsaken and desolate fate of sin and its final consequences?  Does he not restore us to belonging by bringing us into the family of God, and in turn sending us out to show others that he calls them, ‘espoused’ as well?

Finally, let’s return to the cave in which Jesus lies one more time.  I imagine the risen Christ rising from his stone slab, looking at the stone and groaning, ‘ephphatha.’  That gives me hope, for so often I need him to look at my heart and groan, ‘ephphatha.’

May our hearts be opened and those entering the Church this Easter find the familial love and welcome that warrants the title, The Household of God.

We Mean Well… (01.21.2017)

Scripture Readings

Today’s Gospel is one of the shorter readings upon which we reflect.  It is a mere two verses.  Though these two verses contain a fascinating scene.  Jesus’ relatives deem him insane and seek to seize him.  Whoa, what is going on here?  I think it is a case of meaning well but having no idea.

Seizing a family member that you have collectively diagnosed as unstable might not sound like the definition of ‘meaning well’ but we should consider the circumstances.  Jesus is a Jew in Roman occupied Palestine.  He is contending with the Sadducees.  He is parrying the Pharisees.  And from the Roman’s perspective, He is amassing large followings with all of His “kingdom” talk.  He hasn’t gone out of his way to ensure that He has a stamp of approval from the establishment.  Then He shows up near home and His crowd is so massive that the people in the house can’t even eat.  To His relatives this might look like the work of a man who is trying to get Himself killed.  In turn, seizing Him might just be a way to keep Him safe.

However, I don’t think they get it.  They don’t get that He is doing ministry with the cross in mind.  He is radically available and so attractive to those in need because He is coming to them with one eye on His own hour of abject need.  All of His ministry is done under the shadow of the cross.  Not in the sense that His ministry has some defeatist attitude to it.  Rather, it is done in the freedom of His complete self-emptying.

The catch for us, the difficult catch, is that He calls us to that as well.  He calls us to live from the cross.  St. Paul in his letter to the Romans reminds us that in our baptism we were baptized into His death.  That we may rise with Him, yes, but we are already dead.  Jesus calls us to something similar with His words, “Whoever saves His life will lose it and whoever loses His life will save it.”  Christ has called us all to live under the freedom that flows from His cross.  The freedom that “cleanse[s] our consciences from dead works to worship the living God” as the author of the letter to the Hebrews tells us.

However sometimes we don’t get it.  Sometimes, we think Jesus might be going just a little too far.  And we seize Him and put Him away for a little while.  I think we mean well.  It’s just what He is suggesting sounds ludicrous.  He must be insane, right?

Today, be open to letting go of Jesus in an area of your life where you thought He was just a little too insane for what you were ready for.  Don’t seize Him.  Instead, let Him seize you.

The Generator of New Beginnings

Scripture Readings

Today’s readings include the genealogy from Matthew.  A few years ago I would have likely skipped it entirely.  Maybe, just maybe, I would have skimmed it.  My assumption would have been something like this, “Here are some Old Testament greats to help set up why Jesus is so great.”  In those few years I’ve become more familiar with Scripture and have realized how wrong that assumption would be. Continue reading “The Generator of New Beginnings”

Blazes & Cairns (10.1.2016)

cairn-featuredPeople who know me would agree that I am easy to sidetrack.  Students and friends know that I am one derailed train of thought away from twenty minutes of tangential, and likely trivial, conversation.  This tendency sheds light on my affinity for blazes.  I don’t mean fires, I mean trail markers.  I love that purple square painted on a tree or the cairn (small pile of rocks) that guides your hike through a barren region.  It is these trail markers that keep you on track.  They are a sign reminding us how we got here, where we are going, and why we are on this journey in the first place.

downsized_0717151331-791927This call back to purpose, back to the trail, happens in today’s Gospel.  Jesus’ disciples were reveling in the authority and power that had been granted to them.  Jesus celebrates with them for a moment, entertaining their tangent.  Then with these words he called them back, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice because your names are written in heaven”.  Great things were happening around them and through them.  But without the right perspective those things would sidetrack them from the path.  It could lead to childish competition, inflated egos, lust for spiritual power, or an easy to tempt desire for the next spiritual thrill.  Jesus called them back from that, he reminded them where the trail was.

In this passage, and many others, Jesus is revealed as the greatest trail marker of them all.  St. Therese, whose memorial we celebrate today, knew this, which is why she is a Doctor of the Church.  She knew that when we look at that blaze on a tree we call a crucifix or that cairn we call the empty tomb we would be reminded of how we got here, where we are going, and why we are on this journey in the first place.

The 7 Deadly Sins & the 7 Last words of Christ

An Examination of Conscience

This examination started as a personal exercise that a friend asked me to put to writing. 

Thank you to Sarah Cerrone for putting that challenge to me and thank you to Will Marsh, Fr. Steve dos Santos, Dan Hutson, Austin & Makayla Citrigno their help editing it.  Thank you also to Bishop Robert Barron for inspiring me to begin examining my walk by looking for the 7 Deadly Sins.

Please pray this. 

Ask the Holy Spirit to take you down roads I missed and to allow you to be honest with yourself. 

I pray daily for anyone using this examination, please pray for me.


  • Does my anger persist long after an offense? Have I lashed out at others while angry?
  • Do I dwell upon the harm I wish to cause another? Do I have grudges? Do I fuel them in myself or others?
  • Have I allowed anger to damage, even break, my relationships, especially with family?
  • Do I blame others for my anger? Have I apologized for it? Have I refused another forgiveness because of my anger?
  • Do I pray for and bless my enemies?

“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

The first words of Christ after being lifted up upon the cross are words of forgiveness.  The sinless one is being unjustly killed and yet he does not hurl insults and curses.  Instead, Christ is raised above the people gathered there and showers them with the mercy of the Lord.


  • Am I pained by the success of others? Do I take pleasure at other’s failures?
  • Do I find myself envious of the gifts and talents of another, instead of praising the Lord for them?
  • Am I envious of others’ possessions or relationships?
  • Am I drawn to gossip, slander, or libel (written slander)? Do I encourage those sins in others?

“Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

As Christ hangs upon the cross he does not take comfort in the suffering of the criminals next to him, rather he has pity on them.  He does not cling enviously to who he is – Life, Love, Light, and Truth – but in his generous mercy lavishes these upon all of us, even the repentant criminal at his side.


  • Do I view other humans as a means to satisfy my sexual desires?
  • Do I demonize my sexuality? Do I view sexuality as a gift to be cared for or a curse to be dealt with?
  • Have I committed adultery with my body, my mind, or my emotions?
  • Have I violated another sexually – committed sexual abuse or harassment?
  • Have I released my sexual desires through pornography, erotic reading, self-stimulation, or sexual activity outside of marriage? Within marriage, is our intimacy a renewal of our freely given marriage vows?  Are we open to God’s participation in our marriage (e.g. do we pray about our budget, do we use contraceptives, is our home our castle or a place of welcome)?

“Woman, behold your son … Behold your mother.”

When Christ entrusts Mary and John to each other he raises the dignity of motherhood.  However, it’s not just what Jesus said, but how he said it.  In using the word “Behold” he calls Mary and John to see each other as they truly are – as God sees them.  Lust, however, violates how I see another and how I see myself.  This is why it is commonly associated with the eyes.  Not because it is a sin of looking, but because it is a perversion of seeing.  It is to see another and believe we can take what is theirs and will never belong to us.


  • Am I the center of my own little world? Have I sidelined God and others?  Do I have idols?
  • Do I make time for a daily prayer life? Do I make Sunday Mass a priority?
  • Do I act as if God owes me or believe I can manipulate God? Do I help the Lord’s name and reputation be respected?
  • Do I set myself apart, particularly above others? Do I judge others’ hearts, something only God can do?
  • God is truth and life, do I insult Him by lying or degrading others’ human dignity?
  • Do I flaunt a false humility?

“My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus teaches us that true humility is honest.  It is honest about how little I know of God’s plan and that God is God and I am not.  Thank God for that!  I am not trustworthy like the Lord is.  Thus, true humility is allowed to feel confused in the face of hardship and suffering.  When we are humble we might cry out for guidance like Christ on the cross, but we never forget that we can trust the Lord in our weakness, just as Christ’s words are the opening lines of Psalm 22 – a psalm of victory.


  • Do I overindulge in food or drink? Am I wasteful with that same food or drink?
  • Do I disregard my physical health? On the flipside, am I vain about my physical health?
  • Are my acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving used to help the poor and disadvantaged?
  • Do I use illegal drugs, drink underage, or put myself and others at risk through my drinking?
  • Do I spurn hospitality because what is offered does not suit my tastes?

“I Thirst.”

With these simple words, Christ stands in solidarity with all of those around the world who need food and clean water.  Christ needed.  The second person of the Trinity subjected himself to the needs of human life.  This legitimizes our need for food and drink, but a legitimate need is very different from an abused practice.  Our thirsty Lord was not satisfied by a choice wine that costs more than what some families pay to put food on the table.  Rather, he was satisfied by spoiled wine.


  • Am I wasteful with the gift of time? Am I inconsiderate of others’ time?
  • Do I lack motivation in the areas of life that matter – faith, family, well-being of others?
  • Do I lack the capacity to say “no,” thus allowing busyness to prevent me from committing to anything?
  • Am I lazy or apathetic? Do I lack diligence?  Do I procrastinate?
  • Do I put-off loving those around me because I presume I’ll have plenty of time for it later?
  • Am I sloppy and hasty in an effort to just be done with a task?

“It is finished.”

This world will come to an end.  Our earthly lives will come to a close.  Even the God-Man declared “It is finished,” as he neared death.  Christ, convicts us to act deliberately and diligently.  He doesn’t establish efficiency as a virtue, but he makes it clear that we have work to do and we best get to it.  The harvest is ready, but the laborers are few.


  • Do I place my worth and value in possessions? Do I thirst for power and authority?
  • Do I compromise my morality in order to possess and experience? (ex. piracy, lying)
  • Do I use resources excessively? Am I aware of the wider impact of my consumption?
  • Do I invest my time and talent into my church and community or do I only seek to receive?
  • Do I explore the most moral ways to spend my money or do I always seek the lowest price?
  • Do I give to charity and the Church? Do I take on the cost of hospitality?

“Father, into your hands I commend my Spirit.”

It is so tempting to grasp and grab at everything.  We live in a consumer culture that says “you are what you have” and “if you get it, hang onto it.”  God, on the other hand, is the divine gift-giver.  His divine life is gift.  Naked, destitute, abandoned, and nailed to the cross Christ made a gift of all he had left – his life.  Can we live lives of giving and receiving instead of taking and selling?

Lord, having recalled my sins and reflected the last sayings of your Son, whom I desire to imitate, please convert my heart and give me the grace to prevail against these sins in the future.
Let this meditation on both my need for forgiveness and the source of that mercy bear fruit in my life.  Stir in my heart a desire to hear your words of mercy again in Reconciliation.
I love you.
In Jesus’ name,

Claim 3: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 2)

2.     Bones & Relics

The author shows little demonstration of Holy Scripture. Does the touch of Christ’ cloak not heal a woman (Mt. 9:20-22), St. Peter’s shadow not heal in Acts (Acts 5:14-16), the handkerchief and aprons of St. Paul heal diseases and drive out demons (Acts 19:11-12)? What about when the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life (2 Kgs. 13:20-21)? The list of Scriptural proof goes on with many more sacramental objects, such as, Elijah’s mantle, Aaron’s staff, etc.

Challies’ claim is strongly opposed to the testament of Scripture. Greater homework and honesty in research needs to be exercised. I understand the problem having formerly read the Scriptures from the lens of my Protestant tradition. “Blip verses” such as, “baptism… now saves you” (1 Peter 3:21) get ignored or swept under the rug with a shrug of the shoulders. Because they do not fit what pastor said. We resigned thoughtfulness in thinking the passage could not possibly mean what it said. As a former Baptist, when our young adults group read through 1 Peter, we unintentionally skipped conversation on the meaning of said verse. We were more interested in the “how do we apply this to our lives (in 21st century USA),” rather than asking “how did Christians in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc. centuries interpret this Tradition of Holy Writ?” It was so much a part of the tradition of Protestant culture that we did not recognize our frequent biblical and intellectual dishonesty. A few significant select verses did not exist on the forefront of our consciouses like; Paul’s charge to participate in the Breaking of the Bread daily, James’ discourse on works completing Faith, and Jesus’ teaching that the Word of God is primarily Himself (not the Bible) and is freely given in the Eucharist (cf. Jn 1:1, 14; 6:56; Lk 22:19).

3.     Iconography – Graven Images

The Church venerates images in the same way Challies venerates pictures (a “graven image”) of his loved ones. Certainly, adherents to Protestantism keep photographs of family and friends on refrigerators and in their wallets, yet, are ever so slow to grasp this contradiction. Furthermore, do they not annually put out little “graven images” of the Nativity every Christ-mass (clearly, a Catholic holiday) season? Little figurines of the Holy Family are set up as a shrine to reflect the mystery of the Incarnation, however, Protestantism does not recognize this duplicity. Do Protestants pass by the famous Iwo Jima statues, or the Lincoln Memorial, and cry, “IDOLATRY!”? No.. Why? Because they rightly understand it is not idol worship to merely have a statue. It calls to mind the actions and glory of the ancestors and history we revere. Why not implement such art to draw hearts upward in prayer?

Shortly after quoting the commandment to have no graven images, the Protestant skips the “blip verse” commandment to build the statues of the cherubim. “…in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the ark of the covenant, and the cherubim”. [26]

The Image of God has been fully realized in the person of Jesus Christ; it is the pharisees who argue against Him. Why is it that Protestants find themselves at the logical conclusion, though haphazardly, with the pharisees, as if the Image of God is yet to be revealed? In fact, this is more reminiscent of Islam forbidding any images of their prophet.

If Protestantism desires to remain consistent on this point, they would do well to destroy all Nativity sets, this Billy Graham statue, dolls, figurines, photographs (on Facebook too!), and memorial sites. In fact, having a cell phone with a background picture of the Prince of Peace ought to be held culpable.

Next Post:
Appendix 1:
A Practice Inconsistent with “Earning” Salvation: Infant Baptism

26. CCC, 2130.

Claim 3: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 1)

1. Mary and Saint “Veneration”

Challies fails to define “To venerate” after stating it is nuanced.  It does not mean “idol worship” as he seems to presuppose, rather, a Google search would have aided him in finding the definition, “great respect; reverence”.

How is this different than having “great respect” for Great grandfather Arthur, who served in WWII. As his descendants we desire to emulate the virtue of his courage, valor, loyalty, and sacrifice displayed in a time of great hardship. We do not bow down to him in adoration nor do we offer sacrifice to him as a deity, yet, we do revere him and desire to model the virtue he embodied. This veneration does not diminish the respect we have for his fellow soldiers or superiors; rather, it demonstrates their excellent qualities as well. In a greater way than we ever could, Jesus, being perfect, obeyed the Ten Commandments to their fullness; thus, honoring His mother Mary. No Catholic venerates Mother Mary more than her Son, Jesus.

Catholics do not “pray to” (in the way Protestantism understands) the Holy Ones (saints), rather, we “humbly request” (definition of “to pray”) them to intercede for us. This is no different than asking a spouse, friend, brother, or mother to intercede for you. It does not differ because we have Eternal Life. To disagree is to side with the Sadducees; do we not serve the God of the living and not the dead? Our communion with them is not lessened when they enter into the fullness of life. They remain, in a greater way, part of the Vine. How dare we to cut them off simply because we cannot see them. Jesus, who is fully human, communed with the “saints,” Moses and Elijah at the Transfiguration. If Catholics are guilty of “saint worship,” than the conclusive extension of said logic applies to Jesus.

In the same way, a person in Protestantism asks someone, who they readily identify with, to intercede for them, so do the faithful of the Church ask those Saints to intercede for us (cf. Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Tim. 2:1-3). We have great confidence in this because no unholy person may stand before the face of God (cf. Rev 21:27), and the prayers of the righteous availeth much (cf. James 5:16). Just as the Mother of God interceded on behalf of the people at the Wedding Feast of Cana (cf. John 2:1-4), so do we now recognize she intercedes for us at the Eternal Wedding Feast of the Lamb, along with all the other saints below the Altar (cf. 6:9-11). And she is always pointing toward her Son saying, “Do whatever He tells you” (cf. John 2:5).

The piece fails to adequately understand “worship”. The term is used by The Church in an ancient sense and was not simply developed 180 years ago in the United States with the advent of Fundamentalism. “…In common speech worship means adoration given to God alone. In this sense Catholics do not worship Mary or any of the other saints. But in older usage the term worship means not just adoration of God but the honor given to anyone deserving. It comes from the Old English weorthcipe, which means the condition of being worthy of honor, respect, or dignity. To worship in the older, larger sense is to ascribe honor, worth, or excellence to someone, whether a sage, a magistrate, or God. But there are different kinds of worship as there are different kinds of honor. The highest honor, and thus the highest worship, is given to God alone [sacrifice], while the honor or worship given to living men or to saints in heaven is of a different sort. Idolatry thus does not simply mean giving worship (in the old sense) to living men or to saints; it means giving them the kind reserved for God. …Consider how honor is given. We regularly give it to public officials. In the U.S. it is customary to address a judge as ‘Your Honor’. (It has been the British custom to address certain magistrates… as ‘Your Worship’…)”. [24]

The Jews believe in intercession of the saints as well, if only partially. They believe the “Archangel Michael protects and prays for the people of Israel (Dn. 10:21, 12:1).” And, “In the second century before Christ, the deceased High Priest Onias was seen praying for ‘the whole body of the Jews with outstretched hands’ (2 Mac 12:15).” Furthermore, and quite astonishingly for those in Protestantism, “For centuries, Jews have made pilgrimages to the Tomb of Rachel, considered the third holiest shrine of Judaism. Faithful Jews… praying… knowing that God will answer prayers through the intercession of Mother Rachel” [25] because she is “weeping for her children” (Jer 31:15).

To maintain consistency, Challies should no longer pray for anyone or ask anyone to intercede for him. Of course, that would be absurd, but consistent.

If Challies would have read the catechism for himself he would have read, CCC 2113:

“Idolatry not only refers to false pagan worship. Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons (for example, satanism), power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc.”

Here is a link to understand The Intercession of the Saints. It is a biblical and historical understanding. Quotes from the earliest Christians attest to the validity of interceding/praying for one another.

St. Augustine of Hippo said,

“A Christian people celebrates together in religious solemnity the memorials of the martyrs, both to encourage their being imitated and so that it can share in their merits and be aided by their prayers” (Against Faustus the Manichean [A.D. 400]).

A Note:  This is also discussed in this post: Wait, What?!? You DO Worship Mary!?!

Next Post:
Claim: Catholic Worship is Idolatrous (Part 2)

24. Keating, Fundamentalism and Catholicism, pg. 259-60.
25. Taylor Marshall, The Crucified Rabbi, pg. 171.

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

9. Permanent Imputation vs Temporary Infusion

I have limited knowledge of how imputation differs across the various Protestant sects, especially when coupled or divorced from regeneration.   So I want to avoid the mischaracterizations I’m responding to now. I do know that Catholicism rejects the God of band-aid solutions for the God whose word never returns to Him void.  He is the God of Mercy not self deceit.  This reality is expressed in Catholicism’s belief in both imputation and infusion.  Catholicism does not reject imputation entirely, we reject the idea of mere imputation.  We place our faith in the paradoxical God who is three and one; the savior who is God and Man, eternal and mortal; the Scriptures that are of human and divine origin, the Church that is human institution and mystical body.  So yes, we accept the paradoxical view that we are righteous sinners, or as a friend put it, “I am a loved sinner, in that order.” White describes it well and the interpretive key is childhood – restoration to the covenant family:

In short, justification in the Catholic view is the gift of divine sonship, lost in original sin, and regained in Christ. Justification understood in this way involves both the imputation of sonship and the infusion of Christ’s grace. These two aspects are inseparable, for as God imputes family standing to the sinner, the sinner does in fact become a member of the family; sonship is no legal fiction. God effectuates what He declares. Hence, when God declares the sinner righteous, it is more than a mere legal declaration. It is a creative and transformative action whereby God takes someone and breathes into Him that Spirit of sonship which cries, “Abba!” “Father!” Gratuitous, therefore, means more than the receipt of divine favor. What God imparts in the gift of grace is Himself, nothing less, and this life-giving divine gift is a metaphysical, ontological communication of Christ’s sonship. This internal renovation is essential. For individuals are both imputed with Adam’s guilt and infused with his corrupt nature; they are declared sinful, and at the same time, they really are sinful. Hence, justified persons are both imputed with Christ’s righteousness and infused with His life; they are declared righteous because, in virtue of Christ’s indwelling life and holiness, they really are righteous. The remission of sins is possible because the grace of Christ is infused into the person, making him a child of God. By virtue of this new filial relationship, the individual is no longer subject to the wrath of God. God’s judgment then, is directed towards a child in the second Adam, and not a rebel criminal in the first Adam. This helps explain why justified persons need not be perfect themselves; they are justified by virtue of their new relationship to God as sons. The judgment is taking place then with regard to Christ’s grace alive in the individual, at whatever degree of growth; the indwelling grace of Christ justifies sinners. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 4-5)

Now Challies emphasizes the ‘temporary’ for some reason.  My guess is he believes the common Protestant stereotypes that Catholics live in a perpetual state of fear of Hell or that we think we have to earn God’s love.  While Catholics, along with the witness of Scripture, take seriously that: some sins are deadly (1 John 5:16), without fruit we can be taken away (John 15:20), we can be removed after being grafted (Rom. 11:17-24), we can be disqualified after preaching (1 Cor. 9:24-27), we can twist the Scripture to our own destruction (2 Peter 3:16), we can be among the goats on His left (Matt. 25:41-46),  or we can be told that we aren’t known (Matt. 7:21-23) we don’t see those as threats to consume us with fear.  For though these are possible after enlightenment and the tasting of heavenly gifts, we are strongly encouraged and anchored by our God who cannot lie (cf. Heb. 6).  See how Trent articulates that reality:

For God does not command impossibilities, …(St. Augustine, De Natura et Gratia, c. 43 (50))  His commandments are not heavy,(cf. 1 John 5:3) and his yoke is sweet and burden light.(Matt. 11:30)  For they who are the sons of God love Christ, but they who love Him, keep His commandments, as He Himself testifies;(John 14:23) which, indeed, with the divine help they can do.… For God does not forsake those who have been once justified by His grace, unless He be first forsaken by them.  Wherefore, no one ought to flatter himself with faith alone, thinking that by faith alone he is made an heir and will obtain the inheritance, even though he suffer not with Christ, that he may be also glorified with him.(Rom. 8:17)  … the same Apostle admonishes those justified, saying: Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but one receiveth the prize? So run that you may obtain. I therefore so run, not as at an uncertainty; I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection; lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway.(cf. 1 Cor. 9:24, 26)  So also the prince of the Apostles, Peter: Labor the more, that by good works you may make sure your calling and election. For doing these things, you shall not sin at any time. (cf. 2 Pet. 1:10)

Following this last scripture passage cited by Trent, I believe it wise to present one of the most succinct scriptural articulations of Catholic Soteriology:

His divine power has bestowed on us everything that makes for life and devotion, through the knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and power: Through these, he has bestowed on us the precious and very great promises, so that through them you may come to share in the divine nature, after escaping from the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, virtue with knowledge, knowledge with self-control, self-control with endurance, endurance with devotion, devotion with mutual affection, mutual affection with love. If these are yours and increase in abundance, they will keep you from being idle or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Anyone who lacks them is blind and shortsighted, forgetful of the cleansing of his past sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more eager to make your call and election firm, for, in doing so, you will never stumble. For, in this way, entry into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ will be richly provided for you. (2 Peter 1:3-11)

If one wants to claim that Catholic Soteriology is unbiblical 2 Peter must be struck from the Bible first.

Wrap up: The principle problem with this Litany of ‘Additions’ is that they aren’t additions at all.  Instead they are recognitions of how God chose to work.  Catholicism is not guilty of piling junk upon the Gospel.  Protestantism has instead cut away from the Gospel.  It took the glorious Gospel of the transcendent I Am and reduced it to the courtroom proclamation of a self-deceiving, seemingly insecure God.

Justification, in the Catholic sense, is the restoration of that sonship through the second Adam, Jesus Christ; sinners are reborn through baptism as sons of God. In this process, justification is purely gratuitous. The Holy Spirit works in the sinner, effectuating in him an orientation towards faith and good works. Through baptism, he is imputed standing in God’s family and infused with Christ’s grace. Justification then, involves both the legal remission and the actual removal of sin. The forgiveness of sins is possible precisely because the justified person stands in a new relationship to God as a son. Because the grace of Christ is in him, original sin is blotted out, actual sins are remitted, and grace is continually imparted to overcome concupiscence. The justified person continually seeks to obtain “sanctifying grace” through the sacraments (which in the case of adults, are useless without real faith) and by doing good works. In this sense, individuals are justified by works as well as faith, but always by grace alone and Christ alone. Justification is a process, therefore, whereby higher standing is progressively conferred upon children growing up. (White, Sola Gratia, Solo Christo, 8).

What is the Catholic Gospel you ask?

Jesus Christ is the Gospel.  He is the good news.  He is the Messiah.  The incarnate Word of God who has entered into solidarity with us so He may draw us into communion with Himself and, through Him, all those He loves.

His body is the Gospel.  For by His body in the womb of Mary He bridged the divide between divinity and humanity.  In His body that wandered around the Jordan He overcame our temptations of the flesh, the world, and the Devil.  By the sacrifice of His body He ransomed us from exile, bringing us — as our goel (kinsman redeemer) — back into the family, paying for us a price we could not pay.   As the true older brother who reflects the Father He restored an inheritance that we lost (cf. Luke 15:11-32).  Through the resurrection of His body He overcame our otherwise insurmountable enemy – death — and transformed the dead end of mortality into the door to eternity.  In His body, the Church, He guides us on our pilgrimage from Egypt to the Promised Land – the Heavenly Jerusalem.  And by His body He nourishes us, sustains, and feeds us, providing our “food for the way” (cf. 1 Kings 19:7).

The heart of the Gospel is that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.  And while we were still sinners He died for us, entering into death to defeat it.  It is because he first had this love for us that we can love.  Love has loved us and freed us to love.  That is good news.

Next Post:
Claim 2: The “Roman” Catholic Church is not the Church

Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 3)

4. + the Work of Mary?

If I praised St. Paul for his prolific letter writing, tireless fight against the Judaizers, unquenchable desire to spread the Gospel, and legacy of church planting by saying “I don’t know where the Gospel would be without Paul” no one would bat an eye.

However, I can’t do anything like that with Mary.  I could never utter “Without Mary there is no Incarnation.” I don’t dare bring up that if we all bore Christ into the world, proceeded with haste to be with others, cared for children in danger, sought out the lost, pondered the actions of God in our heart, meekly interceded on behalf of those who may not be aware of their need yet, stood by those suffering, and gathered with the Church in prayer (aka if we were more Marian) then Christianity would be richer and more vibrant.  Saying any of that will likely mean I am accused of being a gospel denying, apostate, idolater.  Now you may say, “I don’t have a problem with what you said, except when you make Mary necessary for salvation.”  That raises a great question.  Was Mary necessary for God to achieve our salvation?  No.  Did God, by choosing to take flesh through Mary, give her a necessary role in our salvation?  Unequivocally, yes.  It’s a lot like the Cross.  Read this Socratic Dialogue [15] if you are confused.

5. + Prayer?

Many Protestants will be quick to point out that the Bible calls us all saints.  Which is true, which makes their denial of the intercession of the saints strange.  Denying the intercession of the saints as a violation of Christ’s mediation is to deny that any of us can pray on each other’s behalf.  However, interceding on behalf of one another, even loving someone to express God’s love for him/her (you could call that mediation) does not violate Christ’s singular role as the mediator of the New Covenant between heaven and earth, God and humanity.  Catholics are no different from Protestants in believing that we can and should pray for one another.  However, we differ because Catholics believe that those standing face-to-face with the Lord and Lover of Souls can pray for us.  They pray in and through Christ.  Their prayer like mine or yours, not Christ’s unique mediation from the altar of the cross.  And once again, the Protestant obsession with only/sola statements butts up against the Trinity as it is very clear in Scripture that the Holy Spirit intercedes on our behalf (cf. Rom. 8:26-27).  I bring this up because the Protestant proof text against a Catholic understanding of the intercession of the saints is 1 Tim. 2:5, in which Paul specifically emphasizes Christ’s incarnation, His humanity, as the linchpin of His unique mediation.  The point being, that the common Protestant apologetic regarding this passage proves too much as it was not the Spirit that became incarnate.

6. + Tradition?

Did you know the reformed theology that seems to have saved the Gospel from the shackles of Catholicism is a tradition?  Did you know the Table of Contents in the front of your Bible is a tradition?  Did you know the Bible is in fact written tradition?  And in written tradition we find the command to observe all that was passed down by letter and word of mouth. [16] Weird…

“[Christ] is himself both the mediator and the sum total of Revelation” (Dei Verbum, 2).

7. + Response?

Why does free gift equal no response in reformed theology but nowhere else in God’s universe?  My life is a free gift… guess I don’t need to breathe.  In all seriousness, Catholic theology talks about response, Challies though decides to articulate it as effort possibly to emphasize his accusation of a works doctrine.  More about this in # 9.  (Read Bonhoeffer’s chapter in The Cost of Discipleship on “Single-Minded Obedience” to really see an honest wrestling with the need for response from a very faith-filled Protestant Christian) [17].

8. + The Mass?

The Mass is not added to the Cross. It is the door to the Cross.  Check out The Lamb’s Supper, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist, The Mass of the Early Christians, or The Fourth CupSeriously, I’ll buy it for you.  (Here is my email:

Next Post:
Claim 1: Catholicism Denies the Gospel (Part 4)

16. What do Catholic’s believe about the transmission of that “faith that was once for all handed down (traditio) to the holy ones” (Jude 1:3)?  Find out in Dei Verbum (On Divine Revelation) from Vatican II.
17. “Single-Minded Obedience,” 79-85.