Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Happy All-Hallow's-Reformation-Eve-ween Day

He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore he made atonement for the dead, that they might be delivered from their sin. It is therefore a holy and wholesome thought to pray for the dead, that they may be loosed from sins. -- 2 Maccabees 12:43-46

Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. -- Matthew 5:25-26

Then his lord summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you besought me; and should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his lord delivered him to the jailers, till he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” -- Matthew 18:32-35

And whoever says a word against the Son of man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. -- Matthew 12:32

If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. -- 1 Cor 3:14-15


Halloween is soon to be upon us; All Hallow's Eve, the vigil of the Solemnity of All Saints Day. As I've written in the past, Halloween is a Catholic celebration that's been divorced from its origin, first by Protestants who wanted to make fun of our dressing up as Saints by dressing up as ghosts and demons, and then by the secular world, whose celebration of the day has devolved into how many "sexy" versions of costumes they can convince women to wear.

October 31 is known by many as Reformation Day, the day when Martin Luther supposedly nailed his 95 Theses on the door of the local church in Wittenberg; I am currently reading a very good biography on Luther which denies that this is where the Theses were posted, but the story has lasted for 500 years and will probably stick around forever. One cannot understand Luther's desire for reform unless we understand what was happening in Germany in his day and age.

There was great corruption and abuse in the German church. In those days, it was rare for a priest to ever go to seminary, because barely any of them existed, and sometimes bishops were appointed by secular leaders in order to have a friend in the Church, instead of having a good shepherd for the flock. In Germany, the quality of priest and bishop was either hot or cold - while holiness existed, so did great corruption - most notably with the selling of indulgences. The Church, having the power to bind and loose (Mat 18:18), has been led by the Holy Spirit to offer indulgences to the faithful; an indulgence relieves the temporal punishment associated with forgiven sins. Let's use an example from our world: Your son broke the neighbor's window while playing baseball. He apologizes to the neighbor and the neighbor forgives him, but the window still needs to be replaced and paid for. We see it in Scripture, as well, when David sent Bathsheba's husband to the front in battle and made the troops fall back so that he'd be killed, just so David could then take Bathsheba as his wife; God forgave his sin, but took the life of his son and threw Israel into a great civil war as punishment (2 Sam 11-12). Our sins may be forgiven, but that doesn't mean we don't have to pay for those sins; an indulgence releases us from some or all of that punishment.

The Church, in her mercy, also allows us to gain indulgences for the dead, in keeping with Sacred Tradition, as well as the words of Scripture, especially 2 Maccabees (which is a main reason why Luther had that book removed from his version of the Bible). We can pray for the souls in Purgatory every day of the year, as well as offering indulgences to God on their behalf, but there are special indulgences that can be obtained only between November 1st and 8th, which includes visiting a graveyard to pray for the dead; this is one of the reasons why the Church desires that cremated remains be buried or interred in a Catholic cemetery or mausoleum - in doing so, they will be prayed for by visitors in a very special way.

The problem that Luther was witnessing was a German church that had some dishonest priests and bishops who were lying to people, telling them that if they gave money and possessions to them, that their loved ones would be let out of Purgatory. This is a horrible abuse and a sin, condemned by the Church, but in a day without seminaries or a Catechism, the people trusted these demonic priests and bishops; Luther saw this abuse, coupled with some superstition, and condemned it, which we can all agree on. Sadly, he threw the baby out with the bathwater, though, and taught his disciples to reject Purgatory altogether. You can read the official Catholic teachings on Purgatory here and indulgences here in order to clear up any misconceptions about them.

We can see that Lutheranism is based on the life of the man, Luther, just as much as it's based on that man's personal interpretation of Scripture. The poor guy suffered from a terrible struggle with scrupulosity, always fearing God's impending punishment, so he never felt any relief after Confession - his solution was getting rid of Confession. He was a friar at an Augustinian friary that was near heretical in its obsession over the necessity of good works - his solution was that good works are unnecessary. He saw the horrible abuses by the clergy in relation to prayers for the dead and indulgences, so he got rid of those things, as well as the books of Scripture that clearly backed up the practice. I don't think he was trying to be sinister or underhanded - I think he struggled greatly and that the Christian life in parts of Europe lagged to such an extent that his brand of Christianity resonated with the faithful (and with the kings and princes who could take advantage of a divided Church by taking her property and power).

We mourn the fact that the abuses in Germany and elsewhere made the land ripe for the Reformation, a division that still exists - and multiplies - for the last 500 years. The Church agreed that she needed reform, so in response to the Reformation, the Council of Trent was called to dispel erroneous teachings and superstition, to refute the new theology of Luther, to reaffirm the original canon of Scripture (72 books, as opposed to Luther's 66 books), and to make positive changes, such as writing a Catechism and making seminary formation mandatory. Still, the damage has been done and Western Christianity finds herself divided; however, many Christians are remembering Christ's prayer and Paul's plead for unity. Lutherans and Catholics have continued to grow closer through the last 60 years, with many hoping that a reconciliation might be forthcoming. The booklet From Conflict to Communion documents all the progress achieved between Catholics and Lutherans regarding our mutual understanding of justification, grace, works, and other issues; it also documents the great amount of work yet to be done in reconciling our divisions. Truth be told, in some ways we're closer in doctrine with the Lutherans than we are with the Anglicans/Episcopalians.

In a few days, Pope Francis will be traveling to Sweden to take part in an interfaith prayer service with Lutherans, who invited him; just the fact that the pope, whom Luther called the antichrist, is invited to a Lutheran church for prayers for unity on the day observed as Reformation Day, is miraculous. To many fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, this is offensive; some Catholics will use the occasion to condemn Protestants, and some Protestants will use the day to restate their hatred of Catholicism (many insist that Christian unity is the "one world church" of the antichrist). I choose to see the day in the same light as From Conflict to Communion:

223. As members of one body, Catholics and Lutherans remember together the events of the Reformation that led to the reality that thereafter they lived in divided communities even though they still belonged to one body. That is an impossible possibility and the source of great pain. Because they belong to one body, Catholics and Lutherans struggle in the face of their division toward the full catholicity of the church. This struggle has two sides: the recognition of what is common and joins them together, and the recognition of what divides. The first is reason for gratitude and joy; the second is reason for pain and lament.

224. In 2017, when Lutheran Christians celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation, they are not thereby celebrating the division of the Western church. No one who is theologically responsible can celebrate the division of Christians from one another.

An article on the internet stated: "The joint commemoration is a witness to the love and hope we all have because of the grace of God," [Lutherans] Bishop Younan and Rev. Junge stated in the joint press release. The prayer service will be followed by a public event at Malmo Arena, which can host up to 10,000 people and will be open to the public. The event, the press release stated, "will be the stage for activities focusing on the commitment to common witness and service of Catholics and Lutherans in the world."

There's no telling what others will do this Halloween/Reformation Day, or what next year's will look like (on the 500th anniversary of the fracturing of Western Christianity), but at least on this Halloween, Catholics, Lutherans, and other Christians will be gathered together as brothers and sisters - although still divided - and worship our Lord with one voice, which should give us all hope. May these seeds that are being planted blossom into the fruits of reconciliation and unity, so desperately needed in a world that doesn't believe.