Tradition

Branching off a little

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We all remember the hymn; ‘This is my body’, sung at mass mostly for the offertory or communion hymn. The verse that often sticks out in my mind is “Filled with my Spirit, how you will grow. You are my branches, I am the tree If you are faithful, others will know, you are alive in me”. And I also got thinking where is this in the bible? So I went and looked it up and found it in John chapter 15.

In the previous chapter the disciples are asking Jesus about the way to the Father. Jesus responds and comforts them in reminding them their mission and the promise of the decent of the Holy Spirit. So in the next chapter, Jesus tells the twelve the relationship between Himself and God the Father. “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.” (John 15:1). With the promise of the Holy Spirit’s decent unto the apostles and the references to God the Father we can see the early doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

In the next few lines Jesus then explains the doctrines of Heaven, Hell and Purgatory. Yes Purgatory. “He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” (John 15:2-3) God will cut down those who do not bear fruit. I remind myself of how powerfully Pulp fiction made of the quote from Ezekiel 25:17 “I will carry out great vengeance on them and punish them in my wrath. Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I take vengeance on them.” That needs not much explanation that God will take those who have not produced any fruit to Hell. But in the next part Jesus explains purgatory. For every branch that doesn’t bear fruit, He prunes. In other translations it means that He cleans. Where else can God do this? In confession with a truly repentant soul but if that is not the case then the only other place can be Purgatory. We are not worthy to stand in the presence of God but due to Christ’s death and resurrection we are made worthy and it is up to us to merit our righteousness by our true repentance. Finally Jesus states how we get into heaven. It is because He has talked to us and we accepted His word. We are saved through faith … By Grace. “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” (John 15:4) We must be with Jesus who sends us His grace and love so that we may be a witness to Him throughout the world.

It clearly states in this passage about Catholic doctrines on Purgatory and saved by Faith through Grace but it doesn’t stop there. Tradition is mentioned in this Bible chapter; “If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11). It does clearly state that we must keep Jesus’s commandments. But the protestant would say, but all we have to follow is the ones in the Bible. But John points out later in his Gospel “But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25). There is so much more to following Jesus just by what He taught in the Bible. The apostles we Primary witnesses to the Truth and have passed on the commands and teachings of Jesus throughout the ages to this present day. People say that the Church is outdated and we need to change. All we have to remember is this, Jesus taught us the ways to salvation and creating a relationship with God. We are just stewards on eternal mission of God’s saving plan. Pope Benedict put it perfectly in his Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too”. Even though this is in terms of Liturgy it remains the same with traditions and with the teachings of Jesus.

The Dreaded Epistle

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On the 17th Sunday of ordinary time, we listened to a very famous passage in romans. This passage was Romans 8:28-30. Most lectionaries use the Revised Standard Version but I use the New RSV for my individual lectio. The passage is this.

28 We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family.30 and those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.

This passage is key in the protestant reformation for the doctrine of Sola Fide. This is along with Romans 3:28, where Martin Luther added his own words to the German translation. This was changed from the God inspired passage so that it read that we are saved through Faith alone and not works of the law.

The one thing about the doctrine is that it sounds nice. Once saved, always saved! But of course it is not true. For salvation is a gift freely given to us, his children. If we are good when we were kids we were given treats and gifts so it will encourage good behaviour. And if we were bad then we would have them privileges taken away. That is the same with our salvation. The reason we have this is because of the inheritance we get through birth and that is God’s gift of Free Will. This free will is what causes us to sin and stumble. This makes God turn away from us. Through full repentance are made right standing with God again. This is called being in a state of Grace. For this is what God wants, ‘Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (Matthew 5:48)

So to have faith is awesome, but it is only the start. You must allow Jesus into your heart and life. That is not all you have to do. Jesus does great things and we’ve got to allow him to transform our lives with the advocate, the Holy Spirit. He does this through prayer and the sacraments. Each sacrament is God’s design to conform humanity to Himself. Baptism we are adopted into His eternal family. Confession cleanses us from sin and shows God our repentance. Communion creates the only physical connection between God and man in the Eucharist. Holy Orders and Matrimony consecrates lives to God’s will in the vocation He has prescribed for us. In Extreme Unction we are prepared for eternal life. Confirmation is a sacrament that Protestants would mostly agree with and that is where we confirm Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. From that day on the Holy Spirit remains with us and does God’s work through us.

The one thing that the Catholic Church teaches that other protestant churches don’t is that once baptised you are immediately adopted into God’s family. So we are all children of God. This is very different in some churches of other denominations and can be held by very immature Christians. I’ve heard some protestant preachers be very anti-Catholic. One time I was at a praise and worship meeting being held by the Christian Union of Aberystwyth. The guy was speaking on who is our neighbour. He then went on to say that we should not associate ourselves with Catholics, Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, because they preach the wrong gospel. I knew he was on about gospel values and doctrine, but still I was a bit astounded by his remark. So afterwards I went up to him and explained that I am Catholic and I was made quite uneasy by his talk. He didn’t apologise, so I then asked him if he could show me in his bible what it says in John 1:1. You know in the beginning was the word… and I then showed him mine and they read exactly the same. I then said look at any verse in the bible and it is almost similar because of wording. He understood what I meant because of different translations. I then went and asked him what he thought the message of John 1:1 was. He explained and I replied with exactly the same answer to his astonishment. I then explained to him that if you go and ask everyone in this room what they think one passage means there will be loads of different explanations, whereas if you come to the Catholic Church, anywhere in the world, you will get the same response all the time. It is not only given by what the current pope says but what Jesus taught the first pope when he established the Church.

Back to the epistle, to explain the passage one must learn what some of the words mean. Specially Justified and Glorified. Justified or justification is explained as ‘the most excellent work of God’s love. It is the merciful and freely given act of God which takes away our sins and makes us just and holy in our whole being.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church Compendium 422). To be justified was once explained to me like this. When we sin, God turns his back on us. Jesus, out of his divine mercy, says to the Father to look at His hands and feet and side. I’ve paid the debt for his sin, even though he has no means to pay back. Through this plea, God forgives our sins and we become justified. ‘Justification is the beginning of the free response of man that is faith in Christ and of cooperation with the grace of the Holy Spirit.’ (Catechism of the Catholic Church Compendium 422). Glorified means that you are numbered among the communion of Saints. For there is much rejoicing about each one of us when we turn to God in repentance. Jesus tells this numerous times in Luke’s Gospel. (Luke 15:7, 10, 32) An example of glorification can be found in Matthew 17, Mark 9 and Luke 9. This is the transfiguration. This was originally called the feast of the glorification of Jesus. Here it shows Jesus change into his triumphant glorious self and also shows God’s glory. In the gospel Moses and Elijah appear next to Jesus, representing the law and prophets. This shows us that through Jesus comes the fullness of the laws of God and fulfils all prophecy. That is what Jesus does in us when we are glorified; Jesus helps us fulfil prophecy of God’s predestined plan for us and also helps us keep the works of God’s law.

The main message of this epistle is that we are all called to holiness. To quote St. Catherine of Sienna, ‘If you are what you should be, you will set the whole world ablaze.’ If we allow Jesus into our lives to glorify us, for us to follow in Jesus’ example. For us to ask God for his graces so that we can all merit the gift of salvation. This is not done on our own but on what God wills us to do.