Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Almighty Answer 4: The Real Presence of Jesus now?

If Jesus is really present in the bread and wine of communion, why does he hide himself?

The way we know Jesus is present in the world now after his Ascension is through signs and the Eucharist is the greatest of these signs because he is really present to nourish us.  But his presence is always that of a sign as we journey towards heaven when all signs will be unnecessary.  In the Blessed Sacrament Jesus doesn't hide but shows himself.  But because it is a sign, the way we see him will be through the eyes of faith.  Further, Jesus nourishes us by the Eucharist, really eating and drinking him in the sign of the banquet.  But this is only necessary because we don't yet see him face to face.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Almighty Answer 3: The God of Abraham

Do Christianity and Islam worship the same God?  Can two entirely different kinds of religion be used to worship the same deity?

I think that this issue arises because of a confusion of two aspects of religion. 1. a recognition of what is true 2. the approach to incorporating this truth into our lives.

Monotheistic religions such as Islam and Christianity hold that there is one God. 'The Lord your God, the Lord is One' Deuteronomy 6.4

This also makes sense philosophically, since the omnipotence of God excludes anything that might limit God (so be more powerful). More than one god would limit each other (what one is, the other is not; where one is, the other is not etc...).

If there is only one God, by default, all worship offered to one God must be offered to the same one, even if we argue about who that God is, his revelation and so forth.

It is part of the Christian religion that there is only one God, so there is no possibility that Muslims are worshiping another one, unless of course that god is not God.

From a Christian point of view then, for Muslims to be worshiping God at all, they must be worshiping the only God there is, even if we think they are wrong about who he is and what he has said.

This is the second point. Religions (these religions at least) are not *used* for worship, but are the content of and response to God calling humanity to himself. Yet, this calling has not been universally understood in the same way. So the same God is the object of completely different and competing understandings.

Nevertheless, it might also be worth pointing out that the One God is traditionally called the God of Abraham and Islam considers Abraham to be its father in faith too, although, typically, with quite a different explanation of this truth.

In sum then, Christians and Muslims do worship the same God, but simply because there is only one God to worship. It is just that one of us is worshipping what we don't know (cf. John 4.19-24).

Christianity knows God has revealed himself as Trinity. This revelation is for our good and enables worship to the Father, through the Son, in the Holy Spirit. In this way, God calls us to share in his divine life.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Almighty Answer 2: The Resurrection

When Christ came back from the dead, why was it revealed in such a secret way? Only a few people saw Christ alive and we are grateful for their testimony, but why not march into the High Priest's headquarters and say "I'm back!"?

It is clear from the Acts of the Apostles (10:40) that the fact that Christ appeared only to designated witnesses and not to all the people is no accident. But why did God will it this way? Faith in the risen Jesus means connecting two things: first, really getting to know Jesus, including understanding who and what Jesus was claiming to be through the activities of his ministry; and second, that he was vindicated in all this by God. One could conclude anything from seeing someone risen from the dead; one could conclude all sorts of wrong things - how would anyone know what it meant, and how could people really be certain it was him, unless they very close to him? But Christ appeared to those who had accompanied him before his ministry and had gradually learned from him in his inner circle who and what he was claiming to be. Only such people could have truly benefited from the resurrection, because only they could have understood its meaning. Only they truly understood the message of Jesus, which God was proclaiming (through the resurrection) to be true. Only they could be sure that the risen one really was the Jesus they had known since the beginning of the ministry. (cf. 1 Jn. 1.1-4)  Others could then learn from these official witnesses the true meaning of the resurrection and that it was really was Jesus who was risen, and by designating these witnesses God secured the true interpretation of the resurrection in the apostles’ preaching. These others would of course learn by faith, not having seen, but Christ himself says that blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed, so not to have seen benefits them. (The resurrection body is of course a glorified body. It is still a truly human body, but it is glorified by God's power. For example, Christ will never die again - death has no more power over him. This is why Christ’s glorified human body can appear in a locked room.)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Almighty Answer 1: "Original sin", guilt and salvation

What is original sin and why am I responsible for Adam and Eve's mistakes? Why did Jesus have to die? Could there have not been another way?

Original sin is a state of alienation from God, also described as a lack of original justice: that is, being friends with God.  Because it is a privation of righteousness, it is not ‘a thing’ transmitted.  It is rather an incapability to pass on original justice: you can’t pass on what you don’t have!  (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 404)  So, although you personally, are not morally responsible in the same way as criminal guilt; you share with all humanity the lack of justice, but this is not the personal guilt of a long-dead ancestor such as Adam and Eve.  This justice is restored through Baptism through Jesus’ Passion, Death and Resurrection (cf. Romans 6.3f).

God could have forgiven this selfishness and sin in any way he chose. But the way he chose to bring his forgiveness to us in the death of Jesus comes from his wisdom, and it deals with the whole situation of human sinfulness and selfishness, going right back to our remotest ancestors. When we act selfishly towards others, we distance ourselves from them, but we also distance ourselves from God too, who calls us to a life of self-giving love. In fact the whole human race is in a situation of being at a distance from God - from the very beginnings of the existence of each one of us, we are born into our race's situation of alienation from God. Death in itself is also our ultimate alienation from each other and from God. If the beginnings of the human race in our remotest ancestors had been different, God would have spared us death, and the inheritance of our race would have been entirely different. The fact that we all die follows from the fact that our race chose sin at its beginnings. Sin and death go together. We chose selfishness and sin, and we were not spared death, and we need to be forgiven and restored to life. But forgiveness is not simply a matter of saying someone is forgiven or deciding not to punish them. It means re-establishing the relationship and overcoming the distance and alienation between the two. So for God to forgive us means to come close to us once more, in our human lives and our human death, and to re-establish the relationship across the divide that we have put between ourselves and God. This even means that in Christ God even dies a human death - he comes so close to us in our worst moments - and then conquers that death by rising again. The resurrection then opens up new possibilities for human life - possibilities of selfless living, of death not as alienation from God but as a way of passing to a new life in God, made bodily at the resurrection. If we are moved to sorrow at Christ's death, this can move us to leave sin and death and selfishness behind and want to share in the new life of his resurrection.

Almighty Answers to mighty questions

Soon we shall be publishing a selection of questions that were put to us during 'corner a cleric' week and our answers.  If you have further remarks or questions arising from our thoughts, please use the blog or email your question to the address in the side bar.

We look forward to hearing from you.