Friday, May 30, 2008

Fighting Child Prostitution in Atlanta: An Uphill Battle

"NOW on PBS", a weekly newshow hosted by David Brancaccio, focuses this week on efforts to fight a growing child prostitution problem in Atlanta, and it seems that Atlanta is not alone in having to confront this.

Fighting Child Prostitution - NOW on PBS

Mother Clement asks...

In response to the "Sunday of the Divine Body" post below:

What can be said to one who posits that Jesus' words - "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day" (NKJV translation) - cannot be taken literally because that would mean that all those who do not believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist have no life in them, ie. no salvation and will not be raised up at the last day.

This is essentially what some think we are saying.

Now I am sure that Orthodoxy would not 'un-church' or 'un-save' those Christians who, by virtue of their lack of understanding, cannot embrace the great Grace and Mystery of the Eucharist.

So, what would be a good way to approach this, do you think?
As you know, there are some Orthodox, especially in certain Byzantine circles, who would assert just that. We are not among them, however, primarily because we see the Holy Spirit working in the lives of Christians (and others) outside the visible boundaries of the Church.

However, knowing that the “Spirit blows where the Spirit wills”, we also know that the Spirit, “proceeding from the Father,” “rests upon the Son”. That is, the Holy Spirit is always working to move people toward Christ, and this inevitably means toward the Church, which is Christ's mystical body, the "extension of the Incarnation" in history. Thus, we have to consider both soteriology and ecclesiology here. The first consideration is that salvation is a process of transformation which occurs because one is incorporated into Christ by means of the activity of the Holy Spirit. This incorporation into Christ, however, is not simply a matter of an individual, private relationship with Christ by means of faith, prayer, and the private reading of Scripture. One’s relationship with the Church, the mystical body of Christ, is integral to one’s relationship with Christ, and participation in all of the mysteries, the sacraments, is participation in the life of Christ as found in the Church. One cannot separate the two. Therefore, if one is outside the visible, social, sacramental Church, one is cut off from privileged avenues of access to the Divine-Human life of Christ, the life, the communion, that Christ wants to share with us, the life that is itself salvation.

This is objectively true, but one will note that this account of salvation differs from that found in those quarters which hold a low doctrine of the sacraments and of the Church or ignore both altogether. For these believers, the only thing that counts is a strictly individual faith which results in one having the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, not the righteous life of Christ imparted to them. While there is no denial of sanctification, it is seen as separate from, and subsequent to, justification which is strictly forensic, a legal acquittal and which, in and of itself, is alone of the essence of salvation. In this account, the Church is merely an invisible brotherhood, made up only of those who have experienced this justification. One can see easily how such a belief system can lead to all kinds of problems, the first and foremost being that salvation is in danger of being reduced to “fire insurance”.

But can those who believe such in fact be saved? The short answer is “yes”. History shows that Evangelicalism has produced some great Saints. So how is this possible? Because Christ, through the Holy Spirit, acts by extraordinary means to save all who seek Him with a sincere heart, even in those cases where these seekers are not even aware that it is Christ they seek; these, too, are made members of the Church by invisible bonds. To account for this, the Roman Church, quite rightly, puts forward the ideas of “baptism of desire” and “spiritual communion”. However, it should be noted that “baptism of desire” contains within itself the idea of the DESIRE for sacramental baptism: if one knows of the regenerative efficacy of baptism, one would naturally desire it. For those not so aware, either because of lack of knowledge or lack of understanding, the question then becomes one of implicit desire. The same would hold true for “spiritual communion”.

Having said that, I am not about to let your interrogators off the hook all that easily. In speaking of the proverbial African natives who have never heard the gospel, an Orthodox bishop was wont to say, “The question is not, ‘can they be saved apart from a conscious knowledge of Christ?’ No, the question is, ‘can I be saved if I reject the Christ of whom I know?” Can I be saved outside the visible Church? No, I cannot. I NEED the sacraments. I NEED to eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of Adam. Those who question you profess to believe the Bible – every word – in a most literal way (or at least the Protestant canon thereof). My father was among their number, and he was fond of saying, “If the Bible says that Jonah swallowed the fish, I would believe it.” Unfortunately, however, their belief in the Bible is in fact a belief in a particular and one-sided reading of the Bible, one which ignores its sacramental realism and its doctrine of the visible, social, historical, authoritative Church, “the fulness of [Christ] who fills all in all” in St. Paul’s words. So, while one must acknowledge the possibility of an Evangelical being saved as an Evangelical, it must also be said that one creates unnecessary barriers to his or her “being transformed in the image of Christ” and “enduring to the end” by staying outside of the visible, historical, sacramental Church and refusing to participate in her worship and sacraments. I am reminded here of our Lord’s words in Matthew 22:1-10 and Luke 14:16-24.

You will also find the following, by Lutheran scholar Phillip Cary, relevant and useful, and hopefully your friends will as well:

Why Luther is not quite Protestant

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Third Sunday of Pentecost: Sunday of the Divine Body

In the ACCA calendar, the Third Sunday of Pentecost, which was last Sunday this year, is the "Sunday of the Divine Body" and therefore, corresponds with the Latin Rite feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (where celebrated on Sunday), aka Corpus Christi. The Gospel reading is from John 6, either 30-46 or 47-58, and the Epistle Reading is I Cor. 11:23-28, which records St. Paul's account of the institution of the Qurbana, the Eucharist, at the Last Supper.

As is well known, John's Gospel does not record the institution of the Eucharist; however, in John 6, Jesus speaks clearly of what can only refer to the Eucharist: "the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world" and "unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Adam and drink his blood, you shall not have life within you".

Throughout the history of the Church, especially in the West, there have been various debates about the exact meaning of this Real Presence of Christ in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist. Opinions have ranged from what is called transubstantiation to an outright denial of the Real Presence in some post-reformation quarters. A large problem for many following traditions flowing from the reformation is the practice of eucharistic adoration. Calvin, for example, considered such worship frank idolatry and went to great lengths to attempt to establish both that the faithful (or at least the elect) truly receive Christ in the Eucharist and that, at the same time, worship of the elements is forbidden.

Well, as they say down here, "That dog won't hunt." Beyond all philosophical theories of how Christ is present in the consecrated elements, this is the acid test: will you worship Christ so present? If the answer is "yes," you are in the mainstream of the Apostolic Tradition concerning this question. If your answer is "no," then you are not.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

I'm not sure I believe this...

blog readability test

I think it's just all the theological terms, terms which, perhaps, the algorithm behind this test is not designed to deal with. Or something. I HOPE it's not true because if it is, then the educational system in this country is worse than I thought.

Monday, May 26, 2008

From ACCA Deacon Micah David Hunter

Deacon Micah is a former police officer and the author of several published novels. He also writes a weekly column for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. From time to time, he devotes his column to the food distribution ministry at St. Demetrios.

Hunter: Hard times even harder at bottom

Thursday, May 22, 2008

First there was the "Onion Dome"...

Or maybe not, but I was aware of it first.

But now, I discover this (thanks, I guess, to Abu Daoud): a good source for Christian news

which, as AD discovered, brought us this:

"Proverbs 31 husband' justifies beer habit"

"Well," thought I, "Wonder what the 'Onion Dome' is up to these days?" Whereupon I found this:

"New Catechumen Whips Lax Parish into Shape"

Which brings me to the point: you can tell a great deal about a tradition by knowing what its members argue over among themselves. Give me debates about rites, calendars, ikonography, liturgical language, and even Christology (within certain boundaries), over fights such as those occurring in the Anglican Communion these days. In the former, there are really no fundamental issues at stake.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Trinity Sunday - West

The Western Churches celebrated Trinity Sunday yesterday. Coming a week after Pentecost on the Western calendar, this feast honors a central dogma of all authentic Christian faith, that of the Holy Trinity, which teaches us that the one, eternal, transcendent God is, in fact, a community, a communion, of three co-equal, co-eternal Persons: the Father, the Eternal Son and Word, and the Holy Spirit.

There is much to be said here, especially now, concerning the implications of a communitarian God in whose image and likeness humanity is created and, in the Incarnation of God the Eternal Word and Son, re-created. However, at this time I will simply note two aphorisms:

“Christian social teaching IS the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.”


“Between the Holy Trinity and hell there lies no third choice.”

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son+, and to the Holy Spirit, One God:
In both worlds unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen

2008...or 1928?

"As Homes foreclose in U.S., Squatters Move In"

Avva Zakkai tells me that the number of persons seeking food from the food bank at St. Demetrios in Knoxville has been increasing dramatically over the past few months.

Will the Last One to Leave Please Turn out the Lights?

Picked up by the AP, it got reported as far away as Boston:

This high school grad is all class

Opheim High School, Opheim, Montana, some 45 miles West of my hometown, Scobey, aka "Lake Wobegon", graduates a class of one. And the Governor shows up to give the commencement address.

Congratulations, Jeff. I know you got one heck of an education.

Friday, May 2, 2008

May Day: A Reply

My friend Mother Clement, as I thought she might, takes issue with the thrust of my May Day/St. Joseph the Worker Day/International Workers’ Day post in her comment.

To which I reply:

The “rules” Mother Clement cites constitute a description of how fallen human nature operates and, as such, sink far below what all humans are created to do and to be. Persons enslaved by a fallen human nature (Romans 7) that is alienated from God, are "in bondage to the devil" because of the "fear of death" (Hebrews 2:14-15) and consistently act in ways that are unjust. Therefore, from the fall on, Divine law is imposed in order to restrain those actions which violate justice in order to keep humanity from destroying itself. The first level here is “natural law,” which would have applied even if the fall had not occurred, the next level being the consequences, also largely “natural,” of the fall itself, then the covenant with Noah, and finally, the Torah, which, incorporating the rest, explicitly includes specific safeguards for the poor. When these legal mechanisms break down, social chaos results, as we have seen so often over the past century.

Therefore, while St. Paul is clearly speaking in the context of the Church (whose members are called, not to sink below what Divine law requires, but, voluntarily and with the help of the Holy Spirit, to "put to death the deeds of the flesh" and to rise above it), St. James writes more generally, and posits, essentially, a matter of cause-and-effect: if justice is violated, the consequences are inevitable. In this, he echoes the prophets of the Old Testament, who frequently denounced economic injustice (Amos 8:1-6, for example).

In this case, the basic problem is that when economic inequality, some of which is inevitable, goes beyond a certain point, as is happening in the United States and elsewhere at this time, all kinds of things, economic, political, and social, become unstable, and revolutions, from the right or from the left, become much more likely, if not inevitable. This is what happened in Russia in 1917, in Germany in the early 1930’s, and what could well have happened here in the United States had it not been for FDR and the New Deal.

This is largely what the "social teaching" of the Roman Catholic Church has been addressing over the past century or so, beginning with Rerum Novarum; the Roman Church understands, largely from bitter experience, that both Fascism and Soviet-style socialism are the results of out-of-control capitalism, and while both are certainly "cures that are worse than the disease", they spring forth from such capitalism, which is, in fact, indeed a "disease": sin begets sin.

Besides the fact that it is unjust that some people live in opulence while others, even while working full time jobs, go hungry or have other basic needs, such as healthcare, that go unmet, there is also the fact that wealth accumulated beyond a certain point creates an imbalance in political power, which leads to the wealthy, whether persons, families, or corporations, accumulating ever more wealth, regardless of what this accumulation costs society in general. Without certain safeguards being in place, one cannot divorce economic power from political power: “money is the mother’s milk of politics”. Among such safeguards, a strong, democratic organized labor movement is essential.

Thus, it is incumbent upon the state, charged with, in St. Paul's words, "rewarding good and punishing evil", to keep the economic playing field more-or-less level, something that, at least in the United States, it has been neglecting in the past few decades. This task has been part of the divine mandate given to the state going back to the covenant with Noah. IOW, while such sharing should be voluntary in the Church (and in most cases, it obviously is not), there is a question of justice here, and it is the state’s responsibility to impose justice when that is called for. Or, to put it another way, what goes on in the Church should be an example and model for those outside, and if it were, perhaps the state’s intervention would be unnecessary. However, given the concrete circumstances of our existence, such intervention is often necessary, and is certainly so at this time.

If things continue as they are, the economic crisis now beginning in the United States could well overshadow the Great Depression, and we will have to deal, once again, with the prospect of the rise of some sort of totalitarianism, from either the right or the left, as was the case here in the years immediately prior to WWII. Remember, according to St. Paul, the state too is a “minister of God” and we are to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. IOW, while there is a right to private property, even private productive property, it is not absolute. That is why the Roman Church continually has recourse to the concept of “the common good” in discussing these issues. And, given our form of government, all of us are blessed in that we have certain basic rights, guaranteed by our Constitution, which allow us to have a voice in these decisions.

Plus, on another level, as the Lord Jesus himself indicates many times, when the wealthy ignore the needs of the poor, they endanger their own salvation (for example, Matthew 25:31-46, Luke 16:19-31, Luke 18:18-25) . This is not simply a matter of a juridical decision, arbitrarily imposed, but is a question of learning to allow the Lord to work in our lives and to radically transform us so that we entirely trust in God. It is all too easy, existentially, for the wealthy to bypass this because it is so easy for them to trust in their wealth (and attendant political power) as opposed to trusting God for their wellbeing in this life. This is why “almsgiving” and “fasting” are basic disciplines of the Christian life, along with "prayer".

Thus, all Christians are called to a modest, frugal lifestyle and, if they have been "blessed" with accumulated wealth, to use that wealth in the service of others, to consider carefully the consequences of their investments and, if they employ others, to treat their employees fairly.

Man Bites Dog, Part II

About a month ago, we posted this about a social worker in New York who dealt with a mugger in a rather unusual way. Today, there was a similar story highlighted at GetReligion, this one from the Baltimore Sun. The story this time is about a Roman Catholic nun (actually, a "sister" probably) , so there is no religious ghost in that sense. While the sister acts in very much the same spirit as the social worker, there is no question about her motivation.

"Nun offers mercy, but robber gets jail: Sister's kind words prompt tears in county courtroom"

Thank God for people such as these...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

May Day: St. Joseph the Worker Day - International Workers' Day

Food for thought:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man... (James 5:1-6 RSV)
For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I give my advice: it is best for you now to complete what a year ago you began not only to do but to desire, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a man has, not according to what he has not. I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. As it is written, "He who gathered much had nothing over, and he who gathered little had no lack." (II Corinthians 8:9-15 RSV emphasis added)