Thursday, March 14, 2019

That you may have confidence. . .

Christians have become accustomed to the fact that welfare is an agency of the state, that the care of the widowed, orphaned, disabled, and ill is a function exclusively of the state, and that the only place for churches in these causes is to cast aside overt Christian witness, accept state money, and simply provide a place for the state's work to be done.  This has become, in the mantra of many, the ministry of love -- loving your neighbor into the Kingdom of God if you cannot preach them into it.  All of it sounds wonderful since this relieves the Church of having to find the money for such costly endeavors, fills up empty spaces in our many buildings, and makes us feel better about the little we think we can do.  This is especially true when Christians no longer have confidence that God's Word is a power, that His is the living voice that speaks and faith is born, and that we can do much of anything to halt the force of secularism except comfort folks on their way to death.

So we have ended up at the place where the Church is loathe to criticize the politicians who govern when their governance conflicts with God's Word and will.  We have ended up in the place where freedom of religion has become freedom from religion, consigning the Christians to a right of private worship but attempting to silence them in the public square.  We have ended up at the place where we are so dependent upon tax exemption for our property, sales tax exemption for our work, and charitable exemptions for our workers and our people's contributions that we are easily bullied into silence by the threat of their removal.

In all of this we face a real decline of warm bodies in the pews, of families and children, of church work vocations, of financial viability for many congregations, and of a real sense of purpose and hope.  But most of all, we face a crisis of confidence.  In our lack of confidence we have borrowed business models based upon consumer preference and satisfaction over preaching the Word in season and out and looking like the Church on Sunday morning.  In our lack of confidence, we have accepted the conclusion that it is really all about money and we don't have enough.  In our lack of confidence we have accepted a destiny in which survival depends upon our silence in the face of the acceptance of sin and immorality and it is a cost too many are willing to pay.

In the beginning of Luke's Gospel he gives the purpose for his writing.  It seemed good to me, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.  Luke understands his is not the first written witness.  He purposefully directs his readers to the issue of an orderly account (not meaning here neat and tidy but chronologically ordered).  But the key is in two words.  One is certainty (or confidence) from the Greek asphaleia (ἀσφάλεια).  It means firmness, stability, certainty, undoubted truth, and security and safety from enemies and danger.  I have no crystal ball to see what will happen in the next ten minutes, much less ten years, but what I do have and what you do have is confidence -- not as a personality trait but confidence in the catechesis or teachings of the Word of God.  That is the second word, κατήχησις, which means instruction by word of mouth.  Here it is good to remember that nowhere in the New Testament did the apostolic writers envision their words to be read alone apart from the company of the faithful nor did they conceive of it being a private word or a word for the eye.  It was a preached and taught Word of God that they understood they were delivering upon a page and they fully expected people to hear that Word in the ear and, by the Holy Spirit, to be brought to faith and confidence in the things written for their instruction.

Before the folks in the pews can have this confidence and act upon it, they must have leaders in the Church who act as though they have confidence -- even amid their own personal doubts and struggles.  Theirs is a ministry of a certain trumpet.  They are to lead with confidence not only in the church’s teachings, drawn from the Word of God, but in the capacity of the Church even in this present age of skepticism and indifference to witness and vindicate those teachings before threat and under persecution -- especially from a hostile culture, a government, or political leaders.  Confidence alone is surely not all we need for this day but it must be precondition for the rebirth of the Church from the chains of doubt and fear.

As a sideline, several readers have sent me links to the visions of Our Lady at Fatima.  Rome has always had a fascination about the apparitions of Our Lady at Fatima.  Much of this is cloaked in mysterious prophecies.  According to some, then Cardinal Pacelli (later Pius XII) is said to have hinted at some of the content to one of his closest friends, Count Galeazzi.  While granting no weight to the Fatima oracles, what is hinted at does not need much vision to see and predict.  A reported English translation says:

     “Suppose, dear friend, that Communism is the most visible among the organs of subversion against the Church and the Tradition of Divine Revelation. Thus, we will witness the invasion of everything that is spiritual: philosophy, science, law, teaching, the arts, the media, literature, theater, and religion.
     I am concerned about the confidences of the Virgin to the little Lucia of Fatima. This persistence of the Good Lady in face of the danger that threatens the Church is a divine warning against the suicide that the alteration of the Faith, in its liturgy, its theology, and its soul, would represent.
    I hear around me innovators who wish to dismantle the Sacred Chapel, destroy the universal flame of the Church, reject her ornaments, and make her remorseful for her historical past. Well, my dear friend, I am convinced that the Church of Peter must affirm her past, or else she will dig her own grave.
     I will fight this battle with the greatest energy on the inside of the Church, just as outside of it, even if the forces of evil may one day take advantage of my person, my actions, or my writings, as they try today to deform the history of the Church. All human heresies which alter the word of God are so that a greater light might appear.
     These underdeveloped peoples will save the Church, Eminence. A day will come when the civilized world will deny its God, when the Church will doubt as Peter doubted. She will be tempted to believe that man has become God, that His Son is only a symbol, a philosophy like so many others. And in churches, Christians will search for the red lamp where Jesus awaits them, like the sinful woman crying out before the empty tomb: ‘Where have they taken Him?’
     Then, priests will rise up from Africa, from Asia, from America, formed here in this seminary of the Missions, who will say and who will proclaim that the ‘bread of life’ is not ordinary bread, that the mother of the God-man is not a mother like others. And they will be cut to pieces to testify that Christianity is not a religion like others, since her head is the Son of God, and the Church is His Church.”

Now I have no idea what to make of these words and do not quote them to lend legitimacy to the visions but it does not seem to me that anyone would need a revelation from God for Christians to see this same future predicted -- that the greater enemy to the faith is not from those outside but from those inside, tinkering with the truth, turning worship away from God to self, forgetting the witness of history and tradition, believing that man is the only real deity, and embarrassed by the Scriptures.  The last line is one of the things now almost universally accepted by the more progressive wing of Christianity, a sell out of objective truth to subjective feelings.  You and I have seen the witness of Africa and Asia and their resistance to the decadence and emptiness of the West.  And all of this rings true the question of Jesus when He returns, will He find faith?  No, in our day we need less people of vision than leaders who have confidence in the things into which they were catechized so that they might lead the people in the pews to believe and trust the Word of God now more than ever.

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