Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 43-44 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 37)

Isaiah 43 – Yahweh’s claim on his people: “I have called you by your name, you are mine. Should you pass through the sea, I will be with you or through rivers, they will not swallow you up” (43:1-2).

Yahweh will bring back the remnant. There is “no other savior but me” Yahweh says. He is the power behind a “new exodus”. “No need to recall the past . . . See, I am doing a new deed, . . . I am making a road in the wilderness, paths in the wilds” (43:19). “The people I have formed for myself will sing my praises” (43:21). While Yahweh notes that the people of Jacob and Israel have not bothered honoring Yahweh with sacrifices, He will not remember their sins.

Isaiah 44 – Despite their lack of faithfulness, “I will pour out water on the thirsty soils, streams on the dry ground. I will pour my spirit on your descendants, my blessing on your children” (44:3).  Monotheism shall reign without compromises. “I am the first and the last; there is no other God besides me” (44:6).

The idols of human hands are useless. The makers of idols seek only their own gain. “They know nothing, understand nothing. Their eyes are shut to all seeing, their heart to all reason” (44:18).  But Yahweh has been faithful to his people. “Come back to me, for I have redeemed you” (44:22). The creation will shout for joy.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 37
The Scriptures, however one analyses their weight and authority, are also where we have a degree of unity as Christians—Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox. And they are where we have unity with the Jews, our “elder brother” as Pope John Paul II called them, in the redemption God offers. It is through the language and framework offered by the Scriptures that we will ultimately find a common way of understanding and articulating our spiritual kinship.

Last but by no means least, Quaker spirituality offers lay men and women in the Church a way of seeing themselves and their lives as consecrated to Christ even without entering into what the Church calls “religious life”—becoming a priest or nun or monk. One of the most serious drawbacks of Catholic Christianity for many Protestant Christians is the great divide that separates “religious” from lay members of the community. Quaker spirituality offers a tradition of lay holiness (though they would not call it that), a tradition of living in Christ’s life and power in one’s day-to-day affairs, that can be incorporated into our lives as Catholics. Christ offers to all believers his risen life for us to be part of. God wants us to hear him and follow him now, in this life. From the earliest chapters of our redemption story, God has called us to this:

“The Lord, your God, shall you follow, and him shall you fear; his commandment shall you observe, and his voice shall you heed, serving him and holding fast to him alone” (Deut. 13: 4-5).

“Then the people promised Joshua, “We will serve the Lord, our God, and obey his voice” (Josh. 24:24).

“Oh, that today you would hear his voice; Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah, as on the day of Massah in the desert” (Ps. 95:7).

“This rather is what I commended them: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people” (Jer. 7:23).

“. . .the hour is coming and is now here when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live” (John 5:25).

“. . . the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out . . . “(John 10:3).

Monday, December 30, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 42 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 36)

Isaiah 42 – This is the first of four “Songs” of Yahweh’s “servant” – the servant is in part the chosen people of Israel, but there is some mystery about the one referred to.

                  I have endowed him with my spirit
                  that he may bring true justice to the nations. . .
                  He will neither waver, nor be crushed
                  until true justice is established on earth,
                  for the islands are awaiting his law (42:1-4).

It may also be that the servant is one of the prophets, but Christians have seen in these words a reference to Christ.

                  I, Yahweh, have called you to serve the cause of
                  I have taken you by the hand and formed you.
                  I have appointed you as covenant of the people and
                            light of the nations,
                  to open the eyes of the blind,
                  to free captives from prison,
                  and those who live in darkness. . . (42:6-7).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 36
Quaker spirituality also offers us a way to bring lay voices into our worship. The combining of Mass and Quaker-style worship that I experienced at the retreat center might offer a model of how such an opportunity might be opened to people; or perhaps Quaker-style meetings could take place in connection with reading Scripture apart from Mass, such as midweek meetings where people could reflect in silence on the ongoing presence of Christ’s spirit and grace in their lives.

Quakerism (at lease in its more traditional form) also offers believers a way of putting the Scripture in a more central place. The catechism of the Catholic Church says that “ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ”, but this has not quite filtered down as it needs to. Many Catholic homilists get bogged down in approaching the Scriptures in too scholarly or critical a way—almost as if they are worried that people will take them too literally or uncritically. But early Friends show us a way of using Scripture that does not require us to take them as literally true in every detail, but as writings that give us insight into spiritual truth. They see the Scriptures as the words God’s Spirit brought forth through men to tell us what we need to know about God’s existence and nature, God’s intentions with respect to humanity’s place in the creation, our relationship to him and to our fellow men, our spiritual condition, and the redemption God has worked to effect in history, including the extension of that redemption to all people in and through Christ. What difference does it make that some of these words of Scripture are literature, some history, some hymns of praise, and others letters or accounts putting the story of Christ in the context of the larger redemption narrative? The important thing for believers is that the Spirit of God gave these writing forth, gave them a unity and a power to reveal things about God and our spiritual condition that we could never know as reliably or as well without them. It seems to me also that a deep regard for the Scriptures is ultimately an implied acknowledgment that what the Church teaches about its own authority is true—that Christ’s Spirit abides in it to guide it into all truth and make judgments about what is and is not part of his Truth, for the Scriptures rest on the legitimacy of the Church and its discerning judgment.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 41 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 35)

Isaiah 41 – Cyrus, king of Persia, plays a role like unto that of the Messiah in reestablishing the kingdom of Israel. The remnant God has chosen must not fear. “I am with you; stop being anxious and watchful, for I am your God. I give you strength, I bring you help” (41:10). Your enemies shall be destroyed.

The idol worshippers have no god like Yahweh. They cannot “tell us what happened long ago . . . or let them know what’s going to happen” (41:22). “I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news. Not one of your idols told you this. Not one gave any answer when I asked. See they are all foolish, worthless things. All your idols are as empty as the wind” (41:28-29).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 35
Still, when I was able to receive him and participate in the liturgy fully, my outward participation also became full of meaning to me. Becoming a lector and being able to read the Holy Scriptures at Mass also became important. Many Protestants do not appreciate how substantively the Scriptures are part of the worship of the Church. Indeed, one of the things I came to appreciate about the Catholic Church was how perfectly its approach to Scripture paralleled the view I had come to take of it. They did not take a literal approach, but accepted it nevertheless as authoritatively part of the teaching of the Holy Spirit. And they did not always “translate” it or interpret it. They stuck with the words they found there and left it open as to what the words might mean or lead to.  In fact, it surprised me how little this “authoritarian” institution actually did define what people should think of this or that Scripture passage—less than Friends had, that was for sure. In everything I participated in—liturgy, sacraments, retreats, Scripture groups, prayer books I used for daily reading, adult classes run through the parish—I felt fed in my spirit. Yes, there were controversies over modern day issues—women’s role in the church, sexual politics, even arguments over what I would call a Catholic form of sectarianism (the call to return to Latin and such other controversies)—but these things did not get in the way of real spiritual life.

But as much as I grew to love being back, as much as I came to appreciate the many benefits there were to being a Catholic, I knew I also had a burden on me to share what I had learned from Friends. This is ultimately the point of what I have written here, for I know that there are many contributions Friends’ spirituality might make to the Catholic Church provided it is kept in touch and tension with the tradition the Church guards. It is to these I turn my attention now.
Quakerism offers in its approach to spirituality something all Christians might benefit from, especially Christians who have as rich an outward tradition as Catholics do. While it is true that Catholic churches in this country are well attended, it is also true that charismatic and evangelical churches all over America, not to mention Quaker Meetings, are filled with ex-Catholics who left the Church because they felt no encouragement there to go beyond the outward show of ceremony, sacrament, and dogma. There are also many Catholics who drift away from religion entirely. Part of why there are so many Catholics in these boats is because there are just a lot of Catholics. Many also stay in without ever feeling any deep spiritual reward from it. They stay because being a Catholic is simply part of the family culture. I don’t mean to make it sound like a completely negative thing. It isn’t. A person knowledgeable on some level with the gospel is, I think, more likely at some point to be brought into it at a deeper level, as the number of lapsed Catholics in other churches also tends to show. But it seems to me a shame that we in the Church do not do more to draw people into the deeper and more inward aspects of their faith. We all need a prophetic voice in our lives from time to time, and Friends’ call to the inward Christ is such a voice to all Christians.

It also seems to me that there is a great hunger for inwardness among Catholics—both individually and in the corporate setting. I go on a regular basis to a Jesuit retreat center near my home. There is almost always some kind of Buddhist meditation going on, and I always wonder why we turn to traditions completely outside the Christian experience for this inward aspect when we have a sister tradition that focuses on that inward dimension the way Quakerism does. I do not know Buddhism or Buddhist meditation, and it would be foolish of me to say derogatory things about something I know nothing about, but Quakerism offers a rich resource to us from within our own spiritual tradition. The same is true of all the twelve-step groups that meet in Catholic retreat houses and churches. These all reflect a deep hunger among Catholics for a spiritual discipline or technique that can bring them into a more personal experience of God’s saving power and life. But why do we always look abroad? Christ is in us, just as he is in our Eucharistic bread. We can know him there, know his touch, know his guidance and his voice. We can experience his light and his judgment, his urgings and his comfort, and we can speak to each other what he opens to our hearts and minds.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 40 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 34

Isaiah 40 – Now begins the Second Isaiah chapters – the Book of Consolation - Isaiah here begs Yahweh to console his people:

                  A voice cries, ‘Prepare in the wilderness
                  A way for Yahweh.
                  Make a straight highway for our God
                  Across the desert.
                  Let every valley be filled in,
                  Every mountain and hill laid low, . . .
                  Then the glory of Yahweh shall be revealed
                  And all mankind shall see it (40:3-4).

The Lord will “come with power” (40:10) “like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms” (40:11). The majesty of God is proclaimed. Even all the mighty nations are “as nothing in his presence” (40:16).

The creation reveals the majesty of God. “He has stretched out the heavens like a cloth, spread them like a tent for men to live in. He reduces princes to nothing, he annihilates the rulers of the world. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, than he blows on them. Then they wither” (40:22-24). The stars answer to him like soldiers to their commander.

                  Young men may grow tired and weary,
                  Youths may stumble,
                  But those who hope in Yahweh renew their strength,
                  They put out wings like eagles.
                  They run and do not grow weary,
                  Walk and never tire (40:30-31).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 34
I would be remiss, however, if I did not also say that I was very pleasantly surprised at many of the wonderful things I experienced coming back. The first thing was the other side of the “little fish, big pond” problem I mentioned, for it wasn’t all negative. The pond I was now in was huge. The number of people who went to Mass at my parish church each week exceeded the number of people I mingled with at yearly meeting gatherings among Friends. The priests we had came from Ireland, India, and other countries as well. When I visited Israel in 1994 and attended Mass in Jerusalem, I worshiped with people from every continent and language group. We prayed in Latin, English, and French. The homily was given in Arabic and German (half and half). This was a church that was universal. And while among Catholics a far greater proportion of people participated in worship on what appeared to be a superficial level, there were also many holy and devoted men and women, men and women who had given up everything to devote themselves to the Church (in religious orders) and men and women who were deeply imbued with their faith as lay people. I came to love the diversity and universality of it.

There were also forms of devotion and practice in the Church that were different from those I had come to know—particularly the kinds of simple devotion to and emulation of Jesus that mark some of the religious orders like Mother Teresa’s Sisters, who live to serve the poor and seek Jesus’ face in the faces of those who are dying or in need. This was one of the great blessings I encountered coming back, and it made me realize that faithfulness does include this serving dimension, a dimension I had resisted among Friends because it had been so politicized.
There have also been many blessings that I had not anticipated at all: a sense of deep appreciation for the sacraments and liturgy, for example, or the benefits I have found in simply reading the little prayer book I use, Magnificat.  Not all you pray has to be “yours” in the sense of being original. Christian believers are joined together in one body and we feed each other by the ministries we perform well. When I was going through the process of getting ready to return to communion, for example, I was not supposed to receive the Eucharist. It is a matter of some controversy among some that the Catholic Church restricts the taking of communion when you are not in full union or not in good standing with the Church, but I found it acceptable to be prevented. It seemed right to me that I submit myself to the rules and discipline of the Catholic Church I wanted to be part of, and I had learned as a Friend that rules and discipline are not extraneous to the health of the community. I found to my surprise that my Quaker orientation actually enriched the time of outward “deprivation” I went through. I found it meaningful that just before the reception of communion, everyone says, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed”. These words, of course, are spoken in Scripture by a person who was not able to receive Jesus physically into his home. He was a centurion and a foreigner, and no Jew in good standing was supposed to enter into the house of a Gentile. But the whole point of the exchange between him and Jesus is to show that Jesus’ physical presence is not the critical thing. The centurion’s faith is. It is his faith that results in the healing of his servant, not Jesus’ entry into his house (Matt. 8: 5-13). That was my situation too. I couldn’t receive Jesus into my “house” yet either, but I could and did receive him in faith.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 38-39 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 33)

Isaiah 38 – Hezekiah falls ill and thinks he is dying. He prays sincerely to Yahweh, and Yahweh rewards him by giving him another 15 years. There follows a canticle that the footnote says seems more appropriate to the post-exilic period. It is about Hezekiah’s meditation on what he thought was to be his early demise:

                  "What can I say? Of what can I speak to him?
It is he who is at work;
I will give glory to you all the years of my life
For my sufferings.

Lord, my heart will live for you,
                  My spirit will live for you alone.
                  You will cure me and give me life,
                  My suffering will turn to health.

                  It is you who have kept my soul
                  From the pit of nothingness,
                  You have thrust all my sins behind your back.

                  For Sheol does not praise you,
                  Death does not extol you;
                  Those who go down to the pit do not go on trusting
                  In your faithfulness.

                  Yahweh, come to my help
                  And we will make our harps resound
                  All the days of our life” (38:16-20)

Isaiah 39 – Hezekiah makes a mistake when he shows the king of Babylon, who had contacted him to tell him he had heard of his illness and recovery, all of his treasures in his palace. Isaiah tries to tell him he has made a mistake, but Hezekiah is a little too innocently obtuse about the danger he has created for himself.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 33
The most disconcerting aspect of being back in the Catholic Church was the transition I had to go through from being a reasonably big fish in a little pond to being a tiny, virtually invisible fish in a huge sea. That is the way it felt. I don’t mean to say I was a big fish in the sense that I was big and important. I wasn’t. But in Quaker circles, people at least knew who I was. I served on committees that had a say in what went on in our Meeting. I taught First Day School, conducted Bible studies, did seminars at annual gatherings, wrote articles that were published by Quaker magazines. I taught Quakerism and even wrote a Quakerism curriculum that Friends bought and used in their Meetings or schools. If I went to larger Quaker gatherings, I knew people from all over the region—even all over the country. I felt that my voice could be heard. When I came back to the Catholic Church, I felt utterly anonymous. I knew no one. I had no place or position in the parish, no prospect of one. I had no Catholic “credentials” that could open opportunities. I could not see how “way would ever open” for me to do the other part of what I felt called to do, share what I had learned from Friends. I just had to be patient and wait for God to open the way for me in his time.

I needed to find ways of making the Church feel smaller to me on a day-to-day basis. It was not as easy as it might have been in a smaller denomination, or one more dedicated to creating social ties among its members. There was very little if any effort to do this in the parish to which I was connected, at least in the early 1990s. Eventually, however, things changed. I started to meet people and feel more a part of things. An adult study group started up in anticipation of the Jubilee year 2000, and it was a great success. Then I had the opportunity to stop my school teaching for a while and do the writing I felt God wanted me to do. So over time, the problem of being anonymous and part of a very large institution grew somewhat less important and less disconcerting.

Still, I missed the Society of Friends. As frustrating as I had found my life among Friends, I found I missed the Meeting for Worship—the simplicity of it, the freedom everyone had there to speak, and the sense I always had there of my life being really consecrated to God. I could and did visit fairly often and did not act at first to withdraw my membership from my old Meeting. To do this seemed inconsistent with my basic testimony that really what I was as a Friends and what I sought to be part of as a Catholic were aspects of one whole. But eventually I had to be dropped from the rolls. On a retreat once at a Jesuit-run retreat center in New Jersey, I had a poignant experience that reminded me that I had not returned to the Catholic Church to get away from the good things I had experienced as a Friend. In the intimate daily Mass we celebrated at the retreat center, the priest in charge had the practice of finishing his homily and then inviting all present to settle into a silence from which thy could speak about the gospel readings if they felt moved to do so. In the silence that followed I had an intense experience of being visited by the Spirit and knew this was what I had come to find—the Word in Scripture, in myself, and in the Eucharist. This was what worship could be—a blending of Catholic and Quaker practice that was so powerful I could not remember anything quite so right. Later on in prayer in the darkened chapel before the host, all alone, I experienced again the call to speak (or more specifically to sing). In the dark of the tiny chapel, I sang part of a Quaker song I had learned years earlier:

                  I do not regret the troubles and doubts
                  That I have journeyed through;
                  They keep teaching me patience and humble devotion.
                  Forget not in darkness what in the Light
                  Ye knew to be the Truth

                  Live up to the Light, the Light that thou hast;
                  Live up to the Truth and remember by child,
                  You are never alone, no never.
                  Live up to the Light that thou hast,
                  And more will be granted thee,
                  Will be granted thee,
                  Oh, live up to the Light thou hast.

Then I just cried.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 37 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 32)

Isaiah 37 – On hearing the message, Hezekiah tears his garments and goes to the Temple and sends for Isaiah, wanting Isaiah to plead with Yahweh to punish the Assyrians. Isaiah sends word back that he is not to be afraid of the Assyrians’ words – Sennacherib will return to his country when he hears a rumor of something back at home and Yahweh will “bring him down with the sword” (37:7). Hezekiah approaches the Temple sanctuary and prays to Yahweh. He acknowledges the strength of the Assyrians but prays that the “gods” they have destroyed are not like Yahweh.

Isaiah tells Hezekiah the answer Yahweh has given him; it is a lengthy oracle.

“The surviving remnant of the House of Judah shall bring forth new roots below and fruits above. For a remnant shall go out from Jerusalem, and survivors from Mount Zion. The jealous love of Yahweh Sabaoth will accomplish this” (37:31-32). And, as for the King of Assyria, “He will not enter this city, he will let fly no arrow against it, confront it with no shield, throw up no earthwork against it” (37:33).

That very night “the angel of Yahweh went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp” (37:36). They strike camp and leave. His own sons strike him down with a sword and escape, leaving another son Esarhaddon to succeed him.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 32
Yet another area of coincidence or common emphasis is one that is not often thought of by Friends, but it is nevertheless important. It is the belief that God’s promises are foundational and trustworthy. When George Fox was a young man, seeking God and the power of God’s redeeming work, which had been so richly testified to in the New Testament Scriptures, he knew that if New Testament believers had experienced Christ’s life and power, then he and his contemporaries should also be able to experience them. The promise of redemption offered through Christ was not a delusion or mere words. Friends continually used language that demonstrated how completely they believed they could rely upon Christ’s promises to them. Likewise, the Catholic Church believes in the promises of Christ—in the promise made to Peter that he was the rock on which Christ’s church would be founded (Matt. 16: 19) and in the promise of the Holy Spirit’s presence and power (John 14:26) to teach them and lead them into the fullness of truth. These are real promises, and like the promises to Abraham and to Moses, they are utterly trustworthy. Anyone who is brought into that inward experience of God of which Friends speak knows that the promises of God are palpably real and trustworthy, and this too strengthens my faith in the Church.

The argument of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Reformers seemed to be that the Roman Catholic Church had departed so fundamentally from the holiness and faithfulness Christ had expected of them that they had forfeited their claim to the special status these promises seemed to carve out for them. I do think that in charging this and in shaking up the Church, they had a prophetic Word from God that the Church was meant to hear. And ultimately, I believe it was heard. If people believe that there are still things that need reform, they have a prophetic responsibility to speak what God gives them to say, but I think God is calling us to struggle over these things together, not to see imperfections as occasion to go off and be separate.

The prophets of old did not leave and start their own communities. We should not either. It seems to me that the whole vision of and thirst for an eventual unity is missing in the Protestant denominations I am familiar with. People’s identities are comfortably tied up in being Quakers or Presbyterians or Episcopalians. To me, the Catholic Church is not perfect, but it still is the institution on which the promises rest.
The early months and even years of my return to the Catholic Church were not the easiest. The whole culture of the Church is different from the Protestant culture I had mostly known in my life—a different way of praying, of writing about Christ and his disciples, of talking about the faith, and especially a different way of conceiving of one’s place in the community of faith. I don’t think they are very substantive differences, but they can get in the way of feeling at home. Asked to pray, a Catholic will almost always pray a set prayer like the “Our Father” or a “Hail Mary”, while a Protestant will pray words that appear more personal and come to him or her in a more spontaneous way.

The Catholic devotion to Mary caused me problems. I knew Catholics did not “worship” Mary or think of her as divine. I had little trouble with the reverence shown toward her as a person who opened herself to God utterly and completely, who permitted Christ to grow in her. These were virtues any Quaker believer could agree were modeled in her story. But the repetitions nature of the rosary went against certain Quaker ideas I had about how important it was for worship to be Spirit-led and spontaneous. And the frequent talk of visions of Mary, which are often encountered in Catholic circles, was something I could not relate to. But these were cultural differences, not theological issues for me.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 36 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 31)

Tonight is the night of our dear savior's birth. May God bless us all with His Light and Power and Presence!

Isaiah 36 – Footnote says this “Appendix” is a poem of return from exile and associated with Second Isaiah. Modern scholars think the “Second Isaiah” is not the work of the 8th c. prophet. The name of Isaiah is not mentioned and the historical setting is 200 years after his time. Jerusalem has fallen and the nation is in exile. Cyrus is already present. Oracles of this part are more consoling and remote from the time of Ahaz and Hezekiah. The style is more rhetorical and repetitive. Monotheism is not only affirmed; it is expounded. Religious universalism is clearly expressed. Second Isaiah starts in chapter 40.

In the 14th year of Hezekiah, Sennacherib of Assyria attacked. They wonder why Hezekiah is so confident that he would rebel, acting on reliance on his alliance with Egypt “that broken reed. . .which pricks and pierces the hand of the man who leans on it” (36:6). The cup-bearer wants those on the ramparts to hear what he is saying. The message is reported to King Hezekiah.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 31
Early Friends, of course, rejected “tradition” as the Catholic Church defines it as something wholly of man, not of God; but in this it seems to me they were being inconsistent with their own insight. In a sense they were denying that the Spirit could every have led the early church to organize itself as it did under the authority of bishops who were ordained and part of a continuing chain of leadership linking them to the apostles. Friends denied that the Spirit would ever have led the church to institute outward sacraments, creeds, and ordinances to keep the apostolic foundation secure. Friends saw “continuing revelation” as applying only to those gathered into their own particular vision of the church; the idea would have prospective validity only. The things the early church had decided were somehow not part of the chain of revelation, but still it is interesting to compare their approach to that of the Catholic Church. While both Catholics and Quakers hold that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire and work in his people and his church, both strongly insist that any new revelation be consistent with the foundations laid by the apostles. Our God is not a God of confusion but a God of order, so claims of new insights must cohere with foundational teaching.

In the Catholic Church the right and duty of discernment on the issue of what new insights are consistent with the foundation belongs to the hierarchy, though in practice there is input from the grassroots. Among Friends, however, the right and duty of discernment with respect to “new insight into the established gospel” as Robert Barclay called it, devolves onto the membership as a whole. The interesting thing is that in both communities—Catholic and Quaker—the process of accepting new insights is very slow and methodical. In a properly functioning Meeting, changes in corporate testimony, while always theoretically possible, are as rare as they are in the Catholic Church. The rules established by early Friends require virtual unanimity to institute new practices or approaches. But when changes are convincing and a strong relationship to the gospel foundations are shown, the changes brought about under the doctrine of continuing revelation are impressive. Friends were among the first, if not the first, Christian group to forbid members in good standing to own slaves. They rejected the stigma of inferiority that attached to women in other Christian denominations and were among the first Christian groups to work against the death penalty. Their deep conviction that was and violence are inconsistent with Christian profession is widely known and respected. They also were among the first Christians to challenge class and race privilege as being similarly inconsistent with the gospel.

On the other hand, Friends did not and do not see the same “continuing revelation” in the observances and practices that developed in the early church to preserve and transmit what Catholics call “the deposit of faith”—that foundation to which Robert Barclay referred, on which the faith is built. They did not and do not see “continuing revelation” in the methods the church adopted to assure the soundness of the foundation or to meet the challenges of growth, persecution, and the deepening insights that came with both. But I think that the history of the Christian faith shows that these methods were also important for assuring that the gospel would survive in the world. Faith in the reality and need for continuing revelation brings change, but slow respectful change. This is what I have seen among Friends at their best and in the Catholic Church at its best as well. The Catholic Church’s past is just much longer and more complex than is that of Friends.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 33-35 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 30)

Isaiah 33 – Woe to the plunderer who has never been plundered himself. They will suffer what they have inflicted on others. “He who acts with integrity, who speaks sincerely and rejects extortionate profit, who waves away bribes from his hands, shuts suggestions of murder out of his ears and closes his eyes against crime; this man will dwell in the heights, he will find refuge in a citadel built on rock” (33:15-16).

Isaiah 34 – A prophesy about the end of Edom. Yahweh is angry with all the nations and has “marked them down for slaughter” (34:2). The land is “drenched with blood” (34:7) and “it shall lie waste age after age” (34:10). Over it “Yahweh will stretch the measuring line of chaos and the plumb-line of emptiness” (34:11).

Isaiah 35 – An ironic word – “Look, your God is coming, vengeance is coming, the retribution of God; he is coming to save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, the ears of the deaf unsealed, then the lame shall leap like a deer and the tongues of the dumb sing for joy” (35:4-5). Those Yahweh ransoms shall return to Zion “shouting for joy” (35:10).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 30
Another “Quaker notion” that can be found in Catholic spirituality is the idea of “continuing revelation”. I have mentioned it several times. In a way, Catholics understood continuing revelation way before Quakers ever entered the scene. They simply called it tradition. Tradition and continuing revelation are grounded in the same belief—that God is not an artifact of history. He is as active today in the lives of his faithful as he was in the lives of the holy men and women of old, the ones we read about in the Bible. And he is active in the corporate life of his church, just as he was active in the creation of the universe, the history of his chosen people, and in the life of his Son. His wisdom is not confined to the Scriptures, though they are a product of his Spirit in a uniquely helpful way. But the men and women of Scripture are just men and women like us. God’s Spirit led and opened truth to them, and it does to us as well—not everyone in the same measure, but everyone nevertheless. We could not know God at all unless we had his Spirit in us:

“These things [things that are part of God’s wisdom] God
has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches
everything, even the depths of God” (1 Cor. 2:10).

But continuing revelation is not just an individual phenomenon, not even mainly an individual phenomenon. It is primarily corporate. It is something the gathered people work out together over time, not something any one believer can definitively discern. When Christ promises that the Advocate will be sent to teach the disciples everything (John 14:26), it is possible to interpret this as applying to each one individually, but it makes more sense to see it as a promise that runs to the group, to the body they will become together. Clearly it did not take long for the church to hold that the guidance of the Holy Spirit Christ bestowed upon them belonged in some more reliable sense to the corporate body and in particular to its bishops than it did to individual members (not that individual members could not claim a measure of this same spiritual guidance). So when the church set out to discern truth in controversial areas such as the conflict between Hebrew and Hellenic Jews at the First Council of Jerusalem, it was a corporate task, not an individual one. Similarly, when controversy arose as to what writing Christians should look to as authoritative and which were to be given less weight, it was a council of the church that made the final judgment. That is how the Scriptures most Protestants take as solely authoritative came to be assembled and canonized. It is on the authority of the councils and the church that organized them that the authority of Scripture must rest in the last analysis. Had the church as an institution lacked the guidance of the Spirit, one could hardly argue that the judgments of the councils they called should be respected.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 31-32 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 29)

Isaiah 31 – Those who go down to Egypt to seek help there and build their hope “on cavalry” will be in trouble. “The Egyptian is a man, not a god, his horses are flesh, not spirit” (31:3). Eventually, “Assyria will fall by a sword that is not man’s, will be devoured by a sword that is more than human” (31:8).

Isaiah 32 – Kings “reign by integrity and princes rule by law” (32:1).  They are like shelters, like “shade of a great rock in a thirsty land” (32:2). A time of happiness will come.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 29
Sacramental spirituality, in my estimation, is based on a better understanding of our human nature and ultimately on a better understanding of the wisdom of Scripture. It reflects the reality that we are part of the creation; that our comprehension of God is mixed up in a complex and mysterious way with the physical world that we are grounded in. We enter the dimension of spirit through physical doors. It is from behind these doors that our creator calls to us. We tap around these doors like blind men looking for him. It is our nature to tap and explore around them, God’s grace working in us. If we are responsive to his call and persist in our seeking, the doors will start to open, revealing the deep truths that lie behind them, truths that give human life its meaning. At such moments we may be tempted to relegate the doors we passed through to something not so vital, to something that blocked or obscured the truths we now see more fully or more inwardly; but the doors we pass through are an essential part of the process of discovery. The sacraments are doors like this. They are physical but not solely physical. They are vehicles of that grace from God, who invites us to come through them to him.

Is it possible for us to get caught up in the outward appearances and to forget that the doors must be gone through? I think it is. This is one of the dangers sacramental spirituality entails, but it is a danger we cannot obviate by doing away with sacraments. The shepherds who understand the power behind each door must take very seriously the task of keeping the sheep from thinking that the door is the ultimate goal. It is the proper place of the prophet to badger both sheep and shepherds, to scold them and maybe even sometimes threaten them so that they remain awake and moving spiritually. Life is short, and the rewards of coming through the door are much too great to give up on people.

The other question we must ask is this: Is what lies beyond the door always exactly the same for every person who enters? If I experience my foretaste of God’s kingdom as an intense intellectual pleasure at seeing the many parts of God’s plan finding their fulfillment in Christ or in experiencing an almost excruciating sense of God’s healing and redeeming love for his creation, or if I experience it in seeing my moral life transformed—not to perfection, but to a much higher state than my own will and my own understanding were ever able to effect in me—these are my experiences of God’s saving power. Other people may experience God’s reign over their lives differently. They may feel an overwhelming love and desire to emulate the life of Jesus without knowing much about how he fulfilled the promises made throughout the earlier stages of God’s work in the shaping of the Jewish people. They may not have the capacity or the inclination to understand anything about doctrine or sacramentalism, and yet be filled with a kindness that has been shaped by God’s love in a way I cannot understand. We ought not to have too narrow a sense of how God’s saving power and love might be experienced by a person.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 30 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 28)

Isaiah 30 – Isaiah speaks out against the efforts of those who are looking to Egypt to help them. “Pharaoh’s protection will be your shame” (30:3). God instructs the prophet to inscribe this oracle on a tablet so “in the time to come it may serve as a witness for ever” (30:8). “Since you . . . prefer to trust in wile and guile . . . your guilt will prove to be for you a breach on the point of collapse” (30:13). “Your salvation lay in conversion and tranquility, your strength, in complete trust; and you would have none of it” (30:15).

Yahweh assures them that He is “waiting to be gracious to you, to rise and take pity on you, for Yahweh is a just God” (30:18). Prosperity will come and the Lord will comfort you. “He will be gracious to you when he hears your cry; when he hears he will answer. When the Lord has given you the bread of suffering and the water of distress, he who is your teacher will hide no longer, and you will see your teacher with your own eyes” (30:20). You will hear his voice saying, “This is the way, follow it” (30:21).

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 28
Skipping back a ways – I went over all of the particular Quaker Testimonies I found appealing and had gotten to the part where I felt called to return to the Catholic Church. Then I realized I hadn’t explained why I had ever joined the church the first time in 1964. So now I have gone over that and then why I fell away and what is was that drew me to Quakers in the early 80s. I joined the Religious Society of Friends in 1982 and was an active Friend until the late around 1990. Then I felt myself called back – not because I was disenchanted with Friends so much as that I thought I need both.

First the similarities I found in Catholicism and Quakerism: Both the Catholic church and earthly Quakers believed that Christ was and is really and completely present in his Church and among his people. He promised us that he would be “with us always, even until the very end of time” (Matt. 28:20), and he has kept his promise. For Friends, however, the Christ we can know and be joined with is only Spirit; but for Catholics he is also miraculously and mysteriously present in the sacramental dimension of the Church’s existence—in the bread that is broken at Mass, in the priests who break the bread, in the Holy Father who tends the sheep and encourages the brethren, and in many other ways. I do not see why one necessarily excludes the other. Perhaps I am just not an “either/or” sort of person, but instead a “both/and” sort. This is the richness of the Trinitarian God we worship. He is Creator God, Christ, and Spirit, and each is an opening into the other, so there is no reason why he should be present to us only inwardly or only in sacrament or only in and through nature. He is in all of these. He is before us, beyond us, in us, in our church, in the bread he breaks for us, in the love he manifests to us in all these things. And when we join ourselves to him, we see him everywhere—in all these things and others besides.

His gift of himself in our communion bread is a very corporate presence; his gift of himself to us in our minds and hearts is very individual and personal. The relationship between inward and outward is infinitely complex—the outward stimulating and shaping the inward, the inward recognizing and infusing the outward with power far beyond what is there alone. If we were angels—beings whose essential nature was not tied to the physical creation but were in some way we cannot imagine purely spiritual—then perhaps the substance of the gospel could be that spiritual, “unclothed” essence some modern Friends take it to be, not bound up with time, history, concrete physical reality. But we are not angels. Our essential nature is bound to physicality, time, history, concrete, mediating forms that are our ways into the world of spirit. When we try to pretend we are like angels, that we don’t “need” outward things to mediate spiritual truth, we pull away from truth, come unmoored from the forms through which we came to the measure of truth were capable of possessing.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 29 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism" (Part 27)

Isaiah 29 – This oracle probably dates from the period preceding the siege and deliverance of Jerusalem in 701. According to a New Jerusalem bible note, the name Ariel means “lion of God” and is a name given by the prophet to Jerusalem. Here the prophet foresees the deliverance of the city despite the spirit of lethargy that the city’s prophets exhibit.

The anger of the Lord is still there against the great city: “Because this people approaches me only in words, honors me only with lip-service while its heart is far from me” (29:13). “I shall have to go on being prodigal of prodigious prodigies with this people. The wisdom of its sages shall decay, the intelligence of its intelligent men shall be shrouded” (29:13-14).

The lowly, however, will be able to rejoice because the tyrants and scoffers will be taken from them.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 27
The fact that this radically inward approach to the gospel, which he considered the “true” gospel of Christ had never been preached, as far as Fox was aware, at any point in Christian history did not sway him from believing it was true. It made him think that he might be playing a part in the end time story described so mysteriously and symbolically in Revelation. I think Fox thought that his recovery and reproclamation of this long lost gospel might actually bring about the culmination of history that the first-century church had expected. Maybe the Second Coming had not occurred because the preaching of the gospel had not gone forward as faithfully as it was meant to have gone. For a time, it seems possible that Fox believed it might come in his day, inasmuch as he was preaching the gospel Christ had wanted preached sixteen hundred years earlier. So Fox went out and preached his radical version of the gospel, and thousands were gathered in months. Quakerism spread like wildfire in its first years.

Fox saw his mission as calling people off the outward things that the “judaisers” in the church had instituted and pointing them toward their true teacher, the inwardly experienced Christ:

[. . .] the Lord Christ Jesus was come to teach his people himself and bring them off all the world’s ways and teachers to Christ, their way to God; and I laid open all their teachers and set up the true teacher, Christ Jesus; and how they were judged by the prophets, Christ, and the apostles; and to bring them off the temples made with hands, that they themselves might know they were the temples of God (Fox Journal 107).

The despair people struggled with as Christians worrying about their souls, fretting about whether or not they were saved, not being able to come into a state of spiritual rest or peace came from being caught up in useless and empty forms and forgetting that the covenant of Christ was inward and real and full of power. People had forgotten the spring of water that was bubbling within them:

Oh, when will you be weary of feeding on the wind, and of husks among swine, and on that which dies of itself? And when will you inquire after the living God, who is power? How long have you talked of his power to come? Many years. You are still as far off, if not further, than you were before. You have told of the glory of the Lord to be revealed, and of his law being written in the heart, and of God teaching his people himself, and of his spirit being poured out on his sons and daughters; and you cannot see that you have obtained nothing” (Howgill, Early Quaker Writings, 179).

Friends were determined not to make the same mistake. As people responded to Fox’s message and were gathered together in community, the “form” of worship they instituted was a corporate silence, where everyone waited on the Spirit to open God’s word to them, to speak that word as led and to come into the peace and rest of God. But the elimination of outward forms, complete as it was, did not mean that Friends rejected the historical reality of Jesus’ coming as Christ or the basic truths contained in the creeds. It was not a rejection of the fundamental revelation contained in the Scriptures. The truth as Fox and early Friends saw it was incoherent and inconceivable without these things. This, of course, did not stop his seventeenth-century opponents from saying that Fox denied Christ, the creeds, and Scripture. In 1671, Fox and Quaker leaders issued a letter denying these slanders formally, but the slanders continued.

The Barbados Letter or statement basically goes through the major points of the Apostles’ Creed and affirms the facts stated therein in an attempt to silence criticism of Friends’ doctrinal orthodoxy. The letter appears on pages 602-606 of Fox’s Journal

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Daily Old Testament: Isaiah 28 and My Own Book "Leadings: A Catholic's Journey Through Quakerism (Part 26)

Isaiah 28 – This oracle was delivered before the fall of Samaria [Israel] to the Assyrians in 722 BC. They have become a “faded flower” “prostrated by wine” (28:1). The priests and prophets there are “reeling from strong drink” (28:7) and do not lead competently. They mock Isaiah and his style of prophecy.

The New Jerusalem presents this section in a unique way. A note to this passage tells us that some critics of Isaiah mimic his style, “which they consider unintelligible, with words chosen for their sound-value and recalling the babbling of a child. The NJ passage reads, “With his sav lasav, sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav, zeer sham, zeer sham” - If the words are to be translated at all, they will read ‘order on order, order on order, rule on rule, rule on rule, a little here, a little there’ (1185).   They reject Isaiah’s way of prophesying, so now they will have to learn through “foreign oppressors who speak a strange language” (28:11).

The essence of the oracle is this “I am placing a foundation stone in Jerusalem, a firm and tested stone. It is a precious cornerstone that is safe to build on. Whoever believes need never be shaken. I will test you with the measuring line of justice and the plumb line of righteousness” (28:16-17).

Hail and flood will sweep the “refuge of lies” away through the “mysterious work” of Yahweh. Like the farmer, who harrows the soil and then plants seed in it, so too Yahweh winnows without crushing the seed or remnant.

From Leadings: A Catholic’s Journey Through Quakerism
Part 26
The theology Fox articulated to explain his insight and experiences was not unorthodox. The ecclesiological (church-related) conclusions he drew were – very, but the Christology he adopted was fairly mainstream. Fox explained his experience of Christ’s presence in himself and in others as a fulfillment of two Old Testament prophecies: the promise that a prophet like Moses would come in the future (Deut. 18: 15-19) and the promise that a new covenant would be instituted by this new Moses (Jer. 31: 31-34).

The Deuteronomy prophesy reads, “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me [Moses] from among your own people. . . . Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hole accountable.”

That Christ was this new Moses was not an idea unique to Fox. It was very much a part of the vision the New Testament gospel writers had of Christ. Matthew, in particular, develops the view that Christ is this promised prophet. Like Moses, he is threatened with extinction in childhood by a tyrannical ruler (2: 13); he is called out of Egypt to go to the land of Israel (2: 19-21); he is tempted in the wilderness for forty days and nights as Moses and the people were tempted for forty years (4:2); and he gives his new law to the people from up on a mountain rather than down on a plain as recounted in Luke.

The question of whether the writer of Matthew added these “events” to link Jesus with this prophesy is something I think New Testament readers should ponder. I think it likely that 1st century believers might have had a different standard in evaluating “Truth” [perhaps believing that the imagination – literary creativity – helped arrive at it, not undercut it. I must add that last Sunday’s “60 Minutes” [12/15/2013] story on the Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt adds a new layer to the complexity of the Matthew story, because apparently the Coptic Christian community there holds strongly to the historicity of the story. Their Church is built on it in many ways. I was not aware of this. I still have my doubts about some of the  “historical” details of Jesus’ birth and childhood. They seem to be imaginative ways of affirming the Old Testament prophecies and seeing them fulfilled in Jesus’ identity.

The fact that his new law is not one primarily concerned with outward observances but inward, heart-related realities brings out the connection Matthew also seeks to draw to the Jeremiah prophesy:

“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt – a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband,  . . . But this is the covenant that I will make  . . . I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,  . . . for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

Christ had come not only to die for our sins but also to bring this new covenant into being. The law would be established in human hearts when the Holy Spirit came:

“Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. [. . .] But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you” (John 14: 23, 25).

The inward teacher, alluded to in Jeremiah’s prophesy, was this Advocate, this Spirit. John also refers to it as the anointing:

“. . . the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and so you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, abide in him” (1 John 2: 27).

This anointing or Advocate – the Holy Spirit – was the voice that spoke in Fox, and the voice that spoke in all who sought to be guided by God. Again, none of this was new theology. The prophecies of Moses and Jeremiah were not excluded from the list of prophecies that had been fulfilled in Christ from the point of view of Christian believers, but Fox drew conclusions from these prophecies that other Christians had not and that certainly the church had not. Here I would include in my definition of church not only the ancient historic churches (Catholic and Orthodox) but also Reformation churches. If Christ within was to be our teacher, if the law and way of life he had instituted was so accessible that they “no longer [needed to] teach one another [to] know the Lord . . . ,” then why had the faith remained so wedded to outward things, to complicated doctrinal statements, elaborate sacraments, and outward practices? Fox concluded that all of this was way off base (what he called apostate) and had been for nearly the entire span of the church’s existence – sixteen hundred years. Christ’s coming, he said, had meant to bring to a close the time of outward law and outward religious observance, not just the outward practice of circumcision and temple sacrifice. The church had not been faithful. Its leaders had not trusted in God’s anointing to teach and bring believers into communion, but had fallen back on outward forms and rituals – Christianized forms perhaps, but outward all the same: baptism, communion, ordination of priests, liturgies, even the outward letter of Scripture. By the outward letter, Fox meant the kind of “cookbook” approach to Scripture he felt the Reformed churches were guilty of.

Fox rejected all of these—not the inward realities represented by them, but the outward acts or practices meant to embody them. His rejection of outward observances didn’t mean that everyone was on his own to decide what was true, however, or that there was no communal dimension of church life. Fox was not an anarchist. The New Covenant gospel gathered people and kept order among them even without these outward things, an order he called “gospel order”. It was to keep “gospel order” that Fox established Monthly Meetings and Yearly Meetings that would handle issues that arose and test controversial leadings people claimed to have from Christ.