Posts tagged ‘Catholic Church’

White Diamonds

1965

Image by dovima_is_devine_II via Flickr

“I don’t entirely approve of some of the things I have done, or am, or have been. But I’m me. God knows, I’m me” – Elizabeth Taylor

I’m loathe to write about Elizabeth Taylor because there’s nothing I could write about her that’s not already been written. However, it seems a shame to allow her death to pass without commenting on it. She was, after all, the first woman to be paid $1,000,000 salary for a movie, an exorbitant amount of money for the time. Taylor was widely reported, for many years, to be the world’s most beautiful woman. She was famous for her violet eyes, her many marriages, her soap opera-tabloid lifestyle, her entrepreneurial successes, her philanthropy, and her jewelry collection.

She hastened the end of the marriage of Eddie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds (let’s face it; those two would have eventually divorced anyway), and she was denounced by both the Catholic Church and the United States Senate for her affair with Richard Burton. The affair with Burton hastened the end of her marriage to Fisher, and ended Burton’s marriage to his first wife, Sybil.

But it began a new and tempestuous marriage that spanned a decade, two weddings and two divorces. It also gave us the great performances we see in, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” Would a movie version of Edward Albee’s play have been nearly as fascinating with anyone else playing George and Martha? I hope we never have to find out.

For all her addiction issues and flights of excess, sexual promiscuity and sense of entitlement (she was famously demanding, spoiled, and difficult to work with), she will also be remembered for her courage to speak out against AIDS at a time when no one was doing so. She was, by all accounts, an excellent mother, and this will be one of the many parallels that cause people to compare her with Angelina Jolie. She had a sense of humor about herself and would famously poke fun of herself on talk shows and with her friends. For instance, she stipulated that her coffin would arrive fifteen minutes late for her own funeral.

She had a great love for the gay man, and what gay man wouldn’t love Elizabeth Taylor? She was an icon and a diva. She had a longstanding and close friendship with Roddy McDowell, with whom she starred in one of the Lassie movies. As a young woman she fell helplessly in love with Montgomery Clift, and even though he preferred men, they remained close throughout his lifetime. She was Rock Hudson’s friend and his champion. When AIDS was denounced as a punishment from God for being gay, Elizabeth Taylor stood up and called that viewpoint nonsense. She was, above all, a spectacularly loyal friend, and her steadfast devotion to Michael Jackson proves that beyond a doubt.

Elizabeth battled lots of continuous health issues and went to rehab more than once. In her middle age and beyond, her metabolism caught up with her, and she battled  the bulge many times. Sometimes she won, and sometimes the bulge won. But even as a woman in her 70s, suffering from pain, poor health, and mobility issues, she was still famously beautiful. If you could find anyone in the world who didn’t know who she was, they would have inevitably been struck by the thought of what a striking woman she must have been when she was young. She was the kind of woman that you literally couldn’t help staring at, at any age.

What I most remember Elizabeth Taylor for is that she shared my father’s birthday. My dad was born on the same day as Elizabeth Taylor. He’s five years older than her. He liked to say that the gap between their ages increased over the years but given her childhood stardom, I find this unlikely. It’s probably just my dad’s sense of humor. Elizabeth Taylor’s death reminds me that true beauty, like life, is fleeting. Appreciate it while you can.

April 1, 2011 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

Early Christianity: St. Iranaeus of Lyons

St. Iranaeus (pr. Ear-uh-nay-oose) of Lyons was born in the first half of the second century in a Christian family, something unusual for theologians and priests of his time, most of whom were adult converts. He was the Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, which is where modern day Lyon, France exists now.

Iranaeus is venerated as a saint in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, and the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church in America. Iranaeus first came to the spotlight as a leader among Christian leaders when several priests were imprisoned during their persecution under the Roman leader Marcus Aurelius. Iranaeus delivered a letter to the Pope of the time, concerning the heresy of Montanism.

Iranaeus’ writings were very contemptuous of Gnosticism, and his views on the subject were influential in forming early church doctrine. He was very opinionated on the subject of Gnostics, and his prejudice sometimes led him to record inaccuracies.

For instance, there actually was a written Gospel of Judas; a copy that surfaced in Egypt in the 1970s partially survives to this day. Iranaeus had railed against the oral tradition of a secret document that purported to show Judas’ betrayal as a calculated piece of the Lord’s plan for Jesus, not a treachery but a humble obedience.

Also, Iranaeus claimed that Gnostics were sexual libertines. The truth is that Gnosticism was all over the map. Some Gnostics were promiscuous; others were stricter in their sexual abstention than was the official church. Later, he lost some credibility when these inaccuracies were brought to light.

His most important work was a book called Adversus Haereses, Latin for Against Heresies. It is from Iranaeus that we get the first inkling of a canon. He believed that the Old Testament and most of what has survived to be the New Testament should be considered scripture. He famously argued for the fourfold Gospel.

The fourfold Gospel was the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John that we know to be the gospel today. In Iranaeus’ time there were many gospels. The gospels tended to each be more popular in certain geographical areas. As an example, there was a Gospel of Philip, a Gospel of Thomas, a Gospel of the Virgin Mary, a Gospel of Mary Magdalene, and the previously mentioned Gospel of Judas, to name a few.

The canon wouldn’t be officially deliberated or decided upon until many years later, but undoubtedly Iranaeus’ views were influential in shaping the Christian bible. His vehement argument in favor of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John being the only recognized gospels suggests that it was a novel idea for the time. However, one might also conclude that they were the most popular and widely read gospels for the time, whereas the gospels that didn’t survive were lesser known, less widely read, and also possibly contained Gnostic views.

In Iranaeus’ writings against Gnosticism he introduced the concept of apostolic succession. He argued that the bishops of the early church could be linked all the way back to the Lord’s first twelve disciples and that none of these church leaders were Gnostics. It is from the concept of apostolic succession that the concept of papal supremacy further emerged.

Iranaeus had many other fascinating insights, much too many to expound upon in a blog post. But his most important contributions to early Christianity were his denunciation of Gnosticism and his contributions of the fourfold gospel and the doctrine of apostolic succession. He undoubtedly greatly influenced the future solidification of the Roman Catholic Bible many years before its eventual canonization.

He died in the year 202 A.D. and was later buried under the church he served, St. John in Lyons, which was renamed for St. Iranaeus after his death. The church and his remains were later destroyed by the Hugenots in 1562. Some church traditions hold that he died a martyr’s death, although there is no evidence to support this fact.

To read more:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irenaeus

http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/irenaeus.html

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08130b.htm

http://www.religionfacts.com/christianity/people/irenaeus.htm

http://satucket.com/lectionary/Irenaeus.htm

December 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm 4 comments

Called Out of Darkness: A Spiritual Confession

Anne Rice

Image via Wikipedia

It’s interesting to read Anne Rice’s first and only nonfiction book, so far, in the wake of her recent denunciation of Christianity. There’s a certain sense of irony in reading the conversion tale of someone who’s recently made it publicly clear that she is no longer converted.

At least the first fifty pages of her memoir deal exclusively with her childhood, and, specifically, her impressions of the Catholic Church during her childhood. Anne was an unusually pious child, vacillating back and forth between the desire to be a priest and then a nun and then a Saint. She actively wishes to be afflicted with the stigmata and talks about her admiration for St. Francis of Assisi, among others. She writes about her lack of awareness of gender issues and mentions that she didn’t identify as being either a child or a girl. She talks about her unusual upbringing and her mother’s tragic alcoholism.

None of her tale is especially dramatic, and if you are expecting a fire and brimstone tale of the sinner born again, you will be disappointed. This is the tale of a young woman who rejected the sexism and the unnatural prudishness of a pre-Vatican II church. She mentions being racked with guilt over just hugging and kissing her boyfriend, a slightly younger man named Stan Rice. This begins her rejection of church doctrine, that unravels her faith in the Church, and eventually undermines her belief in Christ Himself.

Anne, a woman who published erotic novels under a pseudonym, reveals that she was never with any man but Stan, her husband of over forty years. Anne and Stan were secular humanists. They were essentially do-gooders of the atheistic variety. Except for a descent into alcoholism on the part of both Anne and Stan, which is glossed over and mentioned as an afterthought, Anne and her husband did not live their lives very differently from adherents of the emerging church.

The only significant differences would be that secular humanists don’t pray, study the Bible or worship. Anne even mentions that after her fortunes changed with the publication of Interview with the Vampire that she later began tithing to a local parish in New Orleans, many years before she came back into the fold or even darkened the door of a church.

She describes her many novels as all being essentially a cry out to a God that she believed no longer existed. It sounds like an extended mourning for God realized as a prolific literary project. It’s easy to see a theme of mortality in her books, but I had never previously made the connection with religion and basically chalked up the vampire theme as being attributable to her young daughter’s death from leukemia. However, having now finished reading this book, I can see her point.

Her conversion from atheism back to Christianity, too, is not dramatic or sudden. It’s a slow, nuanced progression that happens over years. She describes it as an obsession with religious iconography and travel. She visits significant sites, indulging, in particular, a fascination with architecture that was centered almost exclusively around churches, synagogues, and places specifically associated with Christ and his ministry. The conscious turning point is when her teenaged son Christopher (she mentions that his name cannot have been an accident) reveals that he believes in the existence of God despite having been raised in an atheistic household.

This revelation causes her to research Christianity and embrace it on an intellectual level. Somewhere along the way of her reading journey something takes hold, and she finds herself returning to the church. After that we get a description of the deepening of her relationship with God and her discipleship. She and Stan marry in the church, and Stan, who died an atheist, even declares his happiness for her before he dies of a brain tumor.

Following Stan’s death, she consecrates her vocation to God. Thus, the novels Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt and Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana were born. She renunciates her former profession of writing exclusively about supernatural creatures of darkness and decides to apply that talent to writing about Christ and angels. Not that there’s anything wrong with writing about vampires!

Ultimately, her conversion experience leads her to the conclusion that God is Love and that her highest goal as a Christian is to practice that higher love and apply it in her daily life. She says that although there are matters that trouble her, especially the church’s response to gender equality and homosexuality (Christopher is gay), and to a lesser extent, the pedophilia scandals, that she is reconciled to the church. She mentions that being in the church strengthens her faith and so she actively chooses to participate in order to remain fully in dialogue with God. Rice tells of her need for the church in order to prevent her earlier backsliding from repeating itself, like the theme of her pre-conversion novels.

I’m not doubting her sincerity. Some have criticized her for what they see as financial motivations in suddenly embracing and then rejecting Christianity. This book was published in 2008, and it’s disheartening (because I so admire her talent) to me to see how quickly she ate her own words after they were printed. I wonder if it caused her any indigestion. At the very least, it causes a thinking reader to question the strength of her convictions. I wish Anne Rice peace and the love of Christ.

For more on Anne Rice, see my past post: We Are the Church Together.

November 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm 3 comments

Original Sin

Cults and new religious movements in literatur...

Image via Wikipedia

I just finished reading a book called The Faith Club, a book which I fully intend to review on some future post. The book is a collaboration written by a Muslim woman, a Christian woman, and a Jewish woman who met together for years following the September 11th tragedy, for interfaith discussions. The great thing about the book is that it, along with some other things I’ve recently read, has helped me to piece together more of my personal theology.

The Bible says that the only unforgivable sin is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Just what blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is, is like so much of the Bible, up for debate. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of the authority of God, the failure to deny Him His rightful place in your life as your Lord. Many might say that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the denial of God’s existence, and that would qualify as well. However, that’s a very limited definition, since even the devil worshippers believe in the existence of God, and yet I think that all believers can agree on the fact that Satanists will not qualify for acceptance into heaven.

Speaking of Satan, that brings us to the question of original sin. The story of the fall of Satan and the fall of man have in common one thing: the failure to relinquish control and authority to God, the pride that prevents both man and Satan from allowing the Lord to have dominion over our lives.

Let’s look at the story of Satan. Satan was the highest of all the angels in heaven. He wasn’t satisfied with this position and craved to be God himself, instead. Because of this sin of pride, God cast Satan and the angels who followed him out of heaven. The angels who followed him became demons.

http://www.allaboutgod.com/history-of-satan.htm

Then God created man. And man lived naked and without shame in paradise until he ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Man’s sin was not only disobedience but pride. For before Eve ever takes a bite and then tempts her husband, she is tempted by the serpent with the promise that eating the fruit will make her like God, will give her the knowledge of God.

She tempts her husband Adam to eat also by repeating the serpent’s false promise. The fruit did indeed impart knowledge, but it did not impart the wisdom of God. No longer was man an innocent. He was now able to distinguish between light and dark; he was given a conscience, but he was not given the intellect of God. So, while people might now know the difference between good and bad, we do not have the knowledge to discern why the bad must happen.

The greatest hindrance to submission to God, beyond the pride that makes us want to control our own lives, is the question of why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. It’s a subject of endless debate that harkens back to the time of the book of Job but has also been wrestled with by the likes of modern theologians like Rabbi Harold Kushner and Reverend Leslie Weatherhead, amongst others. And it’s a debate that often hinders human beings from belief in and submission to God, because they say that the ways of the world defy a belief in an ominiscient and omnipotent God who is also benevolent. And one can see their argument.

At the same time as I’ve been defining my concept of the one unforgivable sin, I’ve been thinking about just what that means for Christians and the Christian concept that belief in Jesus as the Son of God is required for admission into heaven. It’s a pretty big tenet of the faith for a lot of Christians, and Christians often justify this belief based on one Bible verse alone. That Bible verse is John 14:6, and it reads, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”

Most Christians interpret this to mean that anyone who isn’t a Christian isn’t getting a ticket to Heaven. Not all Christians do, of course, anymore than all Catholics believe the official stance of the Roman Catholic Church that they are the one and only true church, and only members of the true church are going to Heaven. (To be fair, the Roman Catholics aren’t even close to being the only denomination that believes they are the only ones who are going to Heaven; they’re just the largest group of believers with that official theology.)

There is the Unitarian Universalist tradition of inclusiveness, but they always seemed so wishy washy to me, as if they didn’t really know exactly what they believed. From the outside, it seemed like they were all over the map. The Unitarians I knew seemed to apply just as much significance to New Age philosophy as to belief in Jesus. And yet, there is something appealing to me in the concept of the kind God that I know God to be, allowing admission to Heaven by people of different faiths.

It does seem cruel for a loving God to assign people to Hell for all eternity just because they’re not Christians. What about people who aren’t exposed to the Gospel? Evangelicals, of course, always point to The Great Commission [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew%2028:16-28:20&version=NIV] as proof of God’s benevolence. They say that all Christians are charged with the duty of making disciples for Christ because it is literally a matter of life and death.

Failure to proselytize and convert the masses means many untouched souls writhing in Hell for all eternity. They fervently believe this, and this explains the urgency of their attempts to witness to non-believers. As offensive, insulting and poorly rendered as their attempts to convert are, they are sincerely well intentioned. However, their arrogance achieves the opposite of their goals. The lack of respect that they show towards the recipients of their evangelism is evidence of a lack of  love for their fellow man.

http://www.wayofthemaster.com/

Of course, as I’ve previously mentioned, I faithfully read the blog of John Shore. One day I came across a great post about this very issue. You can read it here:

http://johnshore.com/2010/03/29/god-can-love-me-god-can-send-me-to-hell-but-he-cant-do-both/#comments

John overheard a conversation between an atheist and an evangelical Christian who was attempting to witness to the atheist. There was a subsequent blog post in which an atheist questioned the assertion that John 14:6 means that all non-Christians are destined to go to Hell. His interpretation of the scripture was that Jesus gets to decide who gets admission to Heaven. And I thought, well, why not? It doesn’t actually say that you have to be a Christian to get admission to Heaven. It just says that no one gets to go to Heaven who doesn’t go through Jesus.

Now don’t get me wrong; I still believe that Jesus is the Son of God. I believe that He died to save us from our sins. But I don’t believe that Christianity is the only path to God. I just can’t believe that God would condemn those who never heard the Gospel to an eternity in Hell. I can’t believe that God would condemn those of us who are too young or too mentally feeble to grasp the concept of salvation to an eternity in Hell. And let’s not forget that Jesus wasn’t a Christian himself; he was a Jew.

All human beings are created with a natural curiosity to explore our origins and our purpose in the universe, and this natural curiosity is our yearning to be in communion with God. I believe that there are many paths by which this communion might be accomplished. God wishes for us to acknowledge his authority and his presence in our lives. There are many paths through which that goal might be accomplished. The only judge who can ascertain whether or not a human being has the quality of relationship with God that is required is Jesus. I’m okay with that.

So, to summarize:

  1. I believe that there is only one unpardonable sin. That is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.
  2. I believe that blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the failure to respond to the call of a loving God to be in relationship with us and to submit to his will for our lives. It is not just the denial of God but the active rejection of God.
  3. I believe that the Original Sin is pride. The pride that keeps atheists and agnostics from being open to God’s message is the very same pride that keeps some Christians believing that they have the only pipeline to God or that they can determine who will be saved on the day of judgement.
  4. I believe that Jesus is the only person qualified to judge who is being received into the kingdom of God. That is not for me to determine or decide.
  5. I believe that it is important for me to spread the message of the Gospel so that others might be saved, but I do not believe that their salvation is dependent upon me. The most effective witness that I can bear for Christ is to live The Great Commandment. [http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+22%3A36-40&version=NIV] That means showing respect for all human beings, even the ones whose beliefs conflict with mine. After all, we all have our own personal beliefs regarding God, but none of us knows with absolute intellectual certainty what will greet us at our death. To assert differently is akin to saying that we have the wisdom and knowlege of God Himself, which we most certainly do not.
  6. I believe that there are many paths to God, including some that aren’t organized and have no name. God sees into the human heart and desires to be in relationship with any human heart that is open to His call.

September 26, 2010 at 11:47 pm Leave a comment

Doubt

Doubt (2008 film)

Image via Wikipedia

I just watched the movie today. I meant to see it when it came out in the theaters, but I guess there was probably a good reason why I procrastinated. “Doubt” is a movie written and directed by John Patrick Shanley, based on a stage play of the same name, written by John Patrick Shanley. The movie has extras and lots of minor characters, but it stays pretty faithful to the play in that there are only four major characters.

The main characters are:

Father Flynn – A priest who is suspected of having molested a boy

Sister Aloysius — the principal of the Catholic school the boy is attending

Sister James — the young and innocent nun who unknowingly reports suspicious behavior to the principal

Mrs. Muller — the mother of the boy in question.

The movie is set in 1964. The boy the Father is suspected of having inappropriate relations with is the school’s first African American student. The suspicious behavior that inspires Sister Aloysius’s conviction is that Donald is called out of Sister James’ class and returns with a melancholy disposition and alcohol on his breath. Later, Sister James sees Father Flynn sneak a piece of Donald’s clothing back into Donald’s locker. She brings her observations to Sister Aloysius, not wholly sure at first of what this odd behavior could add up to.

Sister Aloysius, who is already wary of Father Flynn for his modern ideas and his vocal position on the growing need for church reform, is not fooled for one minute. When she hears about the suspicious behavior she adds that to her knowledge that the boy is troubled and isolated and that Father Flynn has been singling him out for special attention and decides emphatically that Father Flynn has given the boy alcohol and seduced him.

The rest of the movie centers mostly around the conflict between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, with her hunting him like a game of cat and mouse. You see, Sister Aloysius is so emphatic in her position because she has seen this kind of thing happen before with a different priest at a different school. Fortunately, there the priests in the chain of command were sympathetic of the situation and removed the priest from children. Here, the Sister knows, her cries will fall on deaf ears with the powers that be.

Sister Aloysius tries talking to Donald’s mother and finds that the boy was sent to Catholic school because he was beaten up daily at the public school he attended in the Bronx. Mrs. Muller is only concerned with her son’s survival at the school until June, when he will graduate from the eighth grade and go on to attend high school. We learn that Donald’s father beats him, and the reason that his father beats him and the kids at school bullied him, is because Donald is gay. Mrs. Muller tells Sister Aloysius that she doesn’t care why the priest is so nice to Donald, only that he is.

The climax of the movie is a confrontation between Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius when he discovers that she has been speaking with Donald’s mother. The Father accuses her of going outside of church polity and disobeying her vows of obedience. He threatens to have her fired for insubordination. She then turns the tables on him and says that she knows that he has been at three parishes in the last five years. She says she called one of the nuns at his last parish and was able to learn that he quit under suspicious circumstances. She tells him that she will quit her order and is even willing to face excommunication to see him brought to justice and that he has a choice. He can call the Monsignor and ask for an immediate leave of absence and a transfer or she will continue to hunt him down until he is prosecuted. The priest tells her that there is an innocent explanation for all of this, but she refuses to listen to it and leaves him alone in her office with the phone.

In the end, we learn that Father Flynn has requested a transfer. He is being promoted to an even larger congregation with an even larger school. Sister Aloysius confesses to Sister James that she lied about having talked to a nun at Father Flynn’s previous parish and then collapses in sobs, admitting that she has doubts, though whether those doubts are over Father Flynn’s innocence or her Church, that has promoted a suspected pedophile to another position in care of children, is uncertain. The movie, like the play, never tells you for certain whether the priest is guilty or innocent.

June 21, 2009 at 2:49 am Leave a comment


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