Voce mea ad Dominum

Random thoughts from an amateur theologist.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Our Defenders

War broke out in heaven;
Michael and his angels battled against the dragon.
The dragon and its angels fought back,
but they did not prevail
and there was no longer any place for them in heaven.
The huge dragon, the ancient serpent,
who is called the Devil and Satan,
who deceived the whole world,
was thrown down to earth,
and its angels were thrown down with it
- Revelation 12:7-9

Sometimes you hear the question asked, "How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?" The correct answer? WHO CARES?! The important thing is that they are quite the formidable force to be reckoned with in the battle between good and evil as can be seen in this passage from the Revelation of St. John.

There is good news and bad news in all of this. The good news is that satan and his angels have been defeated and have been cast out of heaven. The bad news? They were thrown down to earth to be a menace to human beings. Oh, and they are really pissed off, too.

Tradition tells us that the devil and his legions were cast out in the primordial battle, a battle which was waged against God after the incarnation of the Son of God was revealed to them. Satan would have no worshipping of flesh, so he rebelled fully aware of the repercussions of his rejection of the incarnation. He is jealous of God's love for us revealed most perfectly in the person of Jesus, and his mission in this world is to tempt us and accuse us before God when we falter.

On the other hand, there are myriads of angels in heaven who are our defenders. They are messengers who reveal God's plan of salvation in time, a plan that was established even before time. These attendants at the throne of God like all of the saints in heaven are constantly interceding for us for protection and divine guidance throughout our journey of faith. They reveal to us one more aspect of what Christ meant when he said to his apostles prior to the ascension, "I will not leave you as orphans," because in Christ we have all the heavenly host with us.

I for one am glad that St. Michael is there to defend us. He has won the battle for all eternity. The devil will never prevail. Even though we are acting out the drama in time, satan's fate has been decided, and for this we can thank St. Michael for his perfect loyalty to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which led to the devil's defeat.

Through the intercession of St. Michael and all angels, may Christ our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Burning Grace

The wicked say:
Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us;
he sets himself against our doings,
reproaches us for transgressions of the law
and charges us with violations of our training.
- Wisdom 2:12

This passage from Wisdom speaks prophetically of Christ, the just one, who was condemned by the Jewish authorities because he was a threat, a thorn in their side. Christ held those priests, scribes, and pharisees to the task of practicing what they preached, the Law of Moses. Because Christ was the fulfillment of that Law in the flesh, he spoke with authority against those whose task was to uphold the Law yet made it a burden. For this he was beset and killed.

As this reading was being proclaimed at Mass this past weekend, it occurred to me that this is exactly how the world responds when the Church stands up for truth. The Church proclaims with authority the teachings of her Lord Jesus which are often at odds with the prevailing zeitgeist. Rather than the world listening and reflecting on the truth of the Gospel, most often it fights back with zeal calling the Church intolerant, stifling, and at times downright bigoted.

Christ never promised a primrose path, on the contrary he promised that the Church would be hated on his account. And just why is this the case? Because Christ expects us to live up to the high standards of the Gospel and this is very hard, actually impossible without God's grace, and God's grace burns and "sets itself against our doings." In other words, it convicts people of their wrongdoing and makes them aware of their imperfection before his majesty. It puts them out of their comfort zone, and when people are put out of their comfort zone, more often than not, they get defensive and set themselves in opposition to God's grace. But by cooperating with God's grace through repentance and conversion, that same burning love becomes a source of pure joy which leads to eternal life.

If only the world would open its heart to the love of God.

St. Vincent de Paul, pray for us.

Monday, September 04, 2006


This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts. - Mark 7:6b-7

Tradition is probably one of the most misunderstood aspects of the Catholic faith. First of all there is Sacred Tradition, and then there are traditions. What is the difference?

I will start with traditions. These are things like the use of holy water to bless yourself on entering the Church, or genuflecting to the tabernacle prior to entering your pew to pray, or bowing at the words et incarnatus est during the recitation of the creed, or making the sign of the cross before or after receiving holy communion. The number of traditions in the Catholic Church is very large. They are acts of piety which have developed over the 2 millenia since the foundation of the Church in the Upper Room at Pentecost, and they are different in the Eastern Catholic Churches from the Western (or Roman) Catholic Church. They are not doctrines or dogmas in that they are not a necessity to the faith. They merely are reverent ways that Catholics express their love for the Lord.

Sacred Tradition is another thing altogether. It is by its nature essential to the faith and is part of the deposit of the faith which was given to the disciples by the Lord himself. Sacred scripture is part of Sacred Tradition, but even further our understanding of Sacred Scripture (i.e. its interpretation) is evident only in light of that Tradition. How then is Sacred Tradition understood and applied?

Here are some examples of how the Church applies its Sacred Tradition. When the Church was faced with the issue of gentiles first becoming Jews through circumcision prior to becoming Christians, the apostles convened a council at Jerusalem and evaluated the issue by reflecting on the teachings handed on to them by the Lord Jesus. They then made a definitive proclamation that this was not necessary. Likewise centuries later when a bishop named Arius was teaching that Jesus was a creature and not divine, the Church bishops convened a council once again this time at Nicea and reflected on what had been handed to them by the apostles and their successors, and they proclaimed that Jesus was begotten of the Father and consubstantial with him as well thus squelching the heresy of Arianism once and for all. With each successive challenge to the faith, the Church met in council and as the apostles did in Jerusalem, faced these challenges head on using the teachings handed to them from the Lord himself in order to resolve them.

While traditions can be rattled off like a grocery list, Sacred Tradition cannot. There is no list of Sacred Traditions that are not mentioned in the scriptures because Sacred Tradition encompasses the entire faith including the scriptures and may be understood as the standard by which all matters of faith are judged. The reason for this is rather straightforward. Traditions (by this I mean traditions) find their origin in human piety. Sacred Tradition originates from God himself.