Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Truth About the Apocrypha: A Bible History Lesson

When I was in college, as an English major, I took a class called "The Bible as Literature." The English Bible that we used contained a section called the Apocrypha. I only knew about the Old and New Testaments. What was this mysterious group of books? It stayed in the back of my mind but did not come up often. Occasionally I would come across a reference to Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) or The Book of Wisdom, and I would wonder what these books were. They were not in my Bible. At some point I heard the Apocrypha mentioned as a set of books added to the Bible by Catholics. Those Catholics had their own Bible! Of course this was not the real Bible, so I would not give much attention to such books, thinking them to be inauthentic. I was under the wrong impression, as I'm sure many Christians are, so here I will provide the history of the Apocrypha. ( I have paraphrased and used direct quotes from Born Evangelical, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie in this essay.)

The first Bibles were all produced by Catholics. The Catholic priest Bede was the first person to translate any part of the Bible into English, in the eighth century. The printer Gutenberg, who was a Catholic, printed the First Catholic Bible centuries later. In 1478, a Low German Bible was printed, so that any literate German could read it. By the end of the Middle Ages, much of the Bible was available in many European languages. Even Luther admitted years later that we would not even have the Bible without the Catholic Church.  

The Apocrypha relates to seven books (or portions) of the Bible included in the Catholic Old Testament but not in the Protestant version. The Septuagint translation (of the Old Testament) was the accepted Greek Bible of the Jews in Palestine and elsewhere for well over a hundred years before Jesus' birth. Both Jews and Christians accepted it as their Bible for over half a century after the Ascension as well. Its canon (list of included books) is not in doubt. The Septuagint included the seven books of the Apocrypha on equal standing with the rest of the inspired Old Testament. There is no doubt that Jesus and his contemporaries all used the Septuagint. The New Testament writers allude to these apocryphal books over two dozen times.

So what happened?  Beginning with Peter's sermon at Pentecost, the Christians and unbelieving Jews were locked in battle over whether Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. In their arguments, the Christians used Old Testament prophesies extensively, many of which were in the seven books that Evangelicals now refer to as the Apocrypha. The Jewish leaders revised their canon about A.D. 90 to exclude 2 Maccabees, Wisdom, Daniel 13-14, Judith, Baruch, Sirach, and 1 Maccabees. By doing this, they excluded many messianic prophesies. The Christians did not confirm this decision. It is a fact that Jesus, his apostles, the New Testament writers, and the early Church all used a Bible that included the Apocrypha. The Catholic Church did not add them after the Protestant Reformation. Rather, the reformers took these books out of the canon accepted by the early Church, borrowing instead a canon developed by non-Christian Jews. Why would they do this?!

While the Jews had found the messianic prophesies objectionable, the reformers disliked passages regarding salvation, prayers for the dead, and purgatory. In addition, some reformers planned on printing editions of the New Testament without four of its books--Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation, which were to be relegated to an appendix. But without any precedent to point to, those four books were reinserted into the main body of the reformers' Bible. The seven apocryphal books, however, were never returned to the Old Testament.

"For evangelicals and reformers alike, there are not objective criteria sufficient for faith. This is most obvious when we discuss the biblical canon. Evangelicals have no good, objective explanation for accepting the canon they do accept. Catholics did not change the canon of the early Church or the deposit of faith to make them fit preconceived ideas. The fact that the reformers did is one of the saddest chapters in all Christendom."  The Catholic Bible is the complete Bible. Now you know the truth; the lid is off. What will you do?

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Truth About "Sola Fide": Is Faith Alone Justifiable?

I was wary of tackling this topic because of the complexity regarding beliefs about salvation, justification, sanctification--what does it all mean? It wasn't until I started studying Catholicism that I even became aware that this is another big argument between Protestants and Catholics, but I think I have read enough now to comment, and it flows naturally from my previous article on "Sola Scriptura". The other predominant battle cry of the Protestant Reformation was "Sola Fide", the belief that we are saved by faith alone. For this article I will refer to Richard A. White's comments from Catholic for a Reason.

White discusses the Evangelical Christian view that we are saved, once and for all in a specific moment, by faith alone. I think this idea is where the term "born again Christian" comes from. Having been Christian from childhood, I always thought this was a redundant phrase. Was there a difference between born again Christians and plain old Christians? Aren't all Christians born again? In fact, isn't being born again what being a Christian means? In my Catholic studies I found out that some Protestants are under the impression that Catholics think justification comes by works rather than by faith, so Catholics aren't saved. What is the truth about that, and what does the Bible say?

Romans 3:28 is the verse cited to argue that justification is by faith alone. What I didn't know is that Martin Luther added the word alone to his translation. Let's give him the benefit of the doubt that he really thought that's what Paul was getting at and see if he was right.

The conflict Paul actually brings up is not between faith and good works, but between faith and "works of the law." He was combating a group of Jewish Christians called Judaizers who claimed that they were righteous because they obeyed certain religious obligations, especially circumcision, and that these rituals (what Paul called "works of the law") were necessary for salvation. Paul argued that we are justified by faith apart from these ceremonial observances and that the "righteousness of faith" applied to Gentiles, too. Physical descendants of Abraham who are circumcised have no special claim to the covenant promises. It is the one who is obedient to God, Jew or Gentile, who is justified. Paul never refers to justification by faith alone.

Romans 2 says, "For he will render to every man according to his works:  to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life...There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil,...but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good...For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. White concludes, "In short, according to Paul, works are the basis for God's judgment! This is a far cry from justification by faith alone." Understanding the historical context of Paul's letter and his opposition to the Judaizers is necessary to get what he is saying about faith vs. works of the law. It is dangerous to simply pull a Bible verse out of context to back up one's point, which is what Martin Luther did, and he even revised it. I don't think any Christian today would suggest that a man would be unable to get into heaven because he was not circumcised!

But in case the distinction from Paul between "good works" and "works of the law" is unclear, James states unequivocally, "faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead" (Jas. 2:17). In other words, the Christian who does not perform good works is lacking in faith. In James 2:20-26 he goes on to remind his readers that Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son Isaac upon the alter. He states, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." Not by faith alone! Could the Bible be more clear on this topic? The two pillars of the Protestant Reformation, sola scriptura, which I have previously covered, and sola fide, do not hold up!

What the Protestant Reformation view leaves out of the equation is that our faith is only possible through God's grace. Ultimately, we are saved by grace. White sums up the Catholic Church's teaching that justification is through grace alone by a living faith working in love, and this is fully supported by Paul and James. God is a merciful Father who, in declaring that our sins are forgiven, actually makes us his sons and daughters. Justification is based on what God has done in generating us anew through grace. We can't earn God's justifying grace through works, but we are expected to grow in maturity in our justification of becoming His children.

According to Catholic teaching, what we do is related to our salvation only because of who we become through divine adoption. We participate in our salvation not only in a single, "born again" moment of conversion, although this may occur, but over the course of our Christian lives, in an ongoing renewal of faith, guided in our works by the indwelling Holy Spirit. What we do with our faith does matter to God and to our salvation, and on this the Bible is clear.

It is telling to note that because he could find no way around the coupling of faith with good works, Martin Luther called the Book of James an "epistle of straw" and was prepared to remove it from the New Testament! It might surprise some fellow Christians to know, as it did me, that 7 books were actually removed by the reformers from the Old Testament. This will lead in to my next consideration, the truth about the Aprocrypha, at another time, on another day...

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Truth About "Sola Scriptura" or "Is That in the Bible?"

I have been amazed to discover that a large number of former Protestant ministers have become Catholic, and while each path was unique, a common thread was the discovery, one by one, that certain Catholic tenets of the faith were indeed scriptural, and that the Evangelical view these men previously held was a misrepresentation of Catholic beliefs and traditions. The Protestant Reformation was based upon the battle cries, "Sola Scriptura" and "Sola Fide," and it is the former that I will focus upon here, through the analysis of David B. Currie's Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic. 

Sola Scriptura means that the Bible is the only Christian authority. Some Protestants think that Catholics do not use the Bible, or think it is important, but that their traditions are the only authority. The truth is that Catholics read the Bible at every mass (church service), and are encouraged to read it on their own, and that the Bible is interpreted through the lens of Church Tradition, which includes those teachings passed down orally, not just those that are written. Tradition and Scripture are interdependent and cannot be separated. This is biblical:  "So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter" (2 Th 2:15).

Currie states, "This verse, even if it were the only one on this topic in the entire Bible (it is not), would mortally wound the Protestant view that Scripture is all we need to know of the will of God for our salvation. Elsewhere Paul instructs Timothy to take this truth he has learned and find men capable of protecting it and passing it on (note the emphasis on the oral nature of this truth): 'And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others' (2 Tim 2:2). This is a natural extension of Jesus' command to 'go and make disciples.' Christianity is a living religion, protected and passed on by people, not paper."

He goes on to say, "The verse I always used to quote on the sufficiency of Scripture actually reinforces the Catholic view:  'All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness' (2 Tim 3:16). The Bible is useful for all these, but this verse certainly never promotes Scripture as the final authority for our faith."  In fact, in his studies of what the earliest Christians believed, Currie found such representative statements as, "The bishop embodies the authority of God the Father, him every mark of respect...defer to him". And again: "It is proper for you to act in agreement with the mind of the bishop; your unity taking your keynote from God, you may with one voice through Jesus Christ sing a song to the profits you, therefore, to continue in your flawless unity, that you may at all times have a share in God."  Passages such as these had previously prompted Currie to write to a friend, "For fifteen centuries the bishop was the final authority. Along came Protestant reformers and set up a new authority."

It is poignant to note in the above passages that the unity of the Church was so important. There was supposed to be only one Christian Church. Peter was the first head bishop (pope):  "And I also say that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build by church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mathew 16: 18, 19).

"By virtue of this divinely-appointed authority, the Catholic Church determined the canon of Scripture (what books belong in the Bible) at the end of the fourth century. We therefore believe in the Scriptures on the authority of the Catholic Church. After all, nothing in Scripture tells us what Scriptures are inspired, what books belong in the Bible, or that Scripture is the final authority on questions concerning the Christian faith. Instead, the Bible says that the Church, not the Scriptures, is the pinnacle and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15) and the final arbiter on questions of the Christian faith (Matt. 18:17). It is through the teaching authority and Apostolic Tradition (2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Cor. 11:2) of this Church, who is guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:16,26; 16:13), that we know of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures, and the manifold wisdom of God (cf. Ephesians 3:10)."  [This paragraph is from an online source.]

The Church spoken of in the Bible is today called the Catholic Church, which regards other Christian denominations as "separated brethern" and as fully Christian brothers and sisters. In contrast, I have heard Protestants say that Catholics are not real Christians or that they are not saved! Which reflects a truly Christian attitude of love? Here is the thing. Once the lid has been opened, you can't put it back on and deny that you have found the truth. The question should not be exclusively, "Where is that in the Bible?" but also, "What does the Church teach about our faith?" For me, obedience to God as a Christian means membership in his Church. That is why I am becoming Catholic, with all due respect to my fellow Christians who belong to other faith traditions.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Housewife's Prayer

Lady, who with tender word
Did keep the house of Christ the Lord,
Who set forth the bread and wine
Before the Living Wheat and Vine,
Reverently did make the bed
Whereon was laid the holy Head
That such a cruel pillow prest
For our behoof on Calvary's crest;
Be beside me while I go
About my labors to and fro.
Speed the wheel and speed the loom,
Guide the needle and the broom,
Make my bread rise sweet and light,
Make my cheese come foamy white;
Yellow may my butter be
As cowslips blowing on the lea.
Homely though my tasks and small,
Be beside me at them all.
Then when I stand face to face
Jesu in the judgment place,
To me thy gracious help afford,
Who art the Handmaid of the Lord.

--Mary Blanche Kelly

There are those who would argue that the Virgin Mary was no one special; she was, after all, only the handmaid of the Lord. Wait--read that again. The Handmaid of the Lord!  What mystery is this, that humility and lowliness, servanthood and obedience, are so highly honored? This is the way of God, encapsulated in the conception of Jesus. And here is the vocation of housewife and mother made sacred. I have understood the dignity of this calling as a woman who stays home with her child, but I did not grasp the significance of such a calling in light of the way in which it echoes the life of Mary until I began my journey with her.

By the time I was in college, the designation of "housewife" had been replaced with "homemaker." After all, a woman is not married to her house! And then came the tongue in cheek phrase, "domestic goddess." Elevating the role in the wake of radical feminism was necessary for mothers who chose not to go out into the work force and earn a paycheck, but to dedicate themselves to working within the home, nurturing their families. A stigma soon became attached to this antiquated, "June Cleaver" version of womanhood, no longer relevant and if anything, to be pitied and scorned. This was not real work, and what would a woman do if her husband died or left her? What would become of her children? They would all surely starve.  

Trust in one's husband and, more importantly, God, was simply not feasible. One must have a safety net. A paycheck of one's own. Often, breastfeeding one's babies went out the door, a new, career wardrobe was purchased, along with a second car, and the cost of child care was added to the family's financial burden. One has to wonder whether the benefit of a second income, after deducting all of the expenses deriving from it, add up to enough to justify the strain on a family to keep all of the china juggling in the air while balancing on a tightrope. Yes, some families cannot make ends meet with only one income. But on the other hand, how many cases of dual income necessity are really the victory of a consumerist society declaring that to live the "good life" and be happy one needs to accumulate a never-ending pile of stuff? If you didn't buy the 2nd (or 3rd) car, or the office wardrobe, or pay for child care, or spend the extra gas money, or live in a larger house than you needed, would you be required to obtain the 2nd income?

It still tickles me when I remember my husband telling me that he was not the breadwinner type! I imagine his vocation came as much as a surprise to him as mine did to me. After all, I was college educated and beyond, and I was making excellent money. But the fact that my mother stayed home with me and my siblings, the security that provided us, was so important to me that I could not even imagine not giving this gift to my own child. When my husband suggested I might have to work, I cried with my baby still in my belly. It seemed like such a thing would be the end of the world. Even when I was in high school and my mom left the house for a few hours to buy groceries, how I missed her! Nothing felt right, I could not be at ease, until she came back home. Not every woman has the luxury I have. The luxury to be a humble housewife, cleaning the toilet, homeschooling, making meals, sweeping the floor. We just took a leap of faith, I guess. Kind of like Mary, although I hadn't thought of it that way. I trusted my husband to go out and earn the money (although I contribute a small sum as a dance instructor), and he trusted himself, and now I ponder in wonder, "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord." For as I do my work in my own home, it is the same as doing it for Him. That I might be such a lowly, exalted creature!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Marian Mission Re-envisioned

When reading a story or watching a movie, it is fun to make predictions about the plot and to be right in the end! It is perhaps more interesting, however, to be kept guessing and to have events unfold in an unexpected way. Such is the case with my mission to bring Protestants to Mary and to find an ecumenical, Protestant-Catholic hybrid of Marian theology that could work. Things are not turning out as I had originally planned, but the journey certainly is intriguing (at least for me)!

For instance, it is apparent that Mary intended for me to follow her to the Catholic Church, rather than for me to remain in a Protestant church and carry her there, so to speak. However, I still think that perhaps reading about my particular path could encourage non-Catholic Christians to be more open-minded about the issue of Mary and to do some investigating into the beliefs of the Catholic Church on their own. I think it is a feasible idea to incorporate Marian devotion into a Protestant life, as some have already done.

As far as "blending" Catholic and Protestant teachings about Mary, well, a person could certainly do this if he chose to, but as for me, being Catholic does not provide such freedom. There is the issue of dogma, which is an article of faith revealed by God, which the magisterium of the Church presents to be believed and declares as binding. Mary's perpetual virginity is dogma, so I must believe this teaching on faith, even if I don't intellectually understand it yet.

The Divine Motherhood of Mary is the first dogma, which basically states that Jesus was born of a human woman, and that He is one person whose nature is both fully divine and fully human. This is where Mary's title Mother of God comes from; since these two aspects of Jesus are not separate, Mary is mother of both the divine and human natures contained within the incarnated Son of God, who is one with God. This dogma primarily defines who Jesus is and protects against heresy. All Christians should share in this belief. All Christians should also support the virginity of Mary at the time of Jesus' conception up till the time of his birth, even if they do not hold that Mary remained a virgin after. To say otherwise opposes the Bible and is heresy.

In addition to these beliefs about Mary common to all Christians, there should be no one who does not call Mary "highly favored by God", "blessed among women" and "blessed by every generation", as these descriptions come straight from the Bible. Furthermore, under no circumstances can anyone rightly argue that Jesus did not honor his mother, as He must have perfectly done so in obedience to the Ten Commandments. Therefore, He would not have rebuked her, scorned her, or rejected her in any way, as some have suggested, going so far as to say that Jesus did not even like His mother! Since we are to imitate Jesus, we have no choice as Christians but to honor her as well.

An unfortunate fact is that there are so many biblical interpretations out there, depending upon the Protestant denomination to which one belongs. There are some 40,000 Protestant denominations, showing a huge divisiveness in belief, even regarding what would seem to be the most basic tenets of the faith. This is the result of no clear authority. There is, in contrast, only one Catholic Church, so there is much less confusion over doctrine. As a result, there is a much clearer interpretation of Biblical events, understood through the lens of Tradition. Although there is some room for individual interpretation, in which a person reads the Bible and decides for himself what is meant and how it applies to one's life, this cannot be in opposition to official Church teaching. However, there is some latitude in areas in which the Church has not given detailed, decisive revelation. Some things can be believed one way or another and still be within the parameters of official Church teaching.

What I would like to do in future articles is to consider the scenes of Mary's life, particularly those in which it is argued that Mary is trying to interfere with Jesus' mission or is otherwise thought to be pictured in an unflattering light, and to spin a more likely, accurate portrayal. My hope is to bridge some of the gap between Protestant and Catholic thinking on Mary. Some of that depends upon understanding the basis for the authority of the Catholic Church, which Protestants by nature reject. But even if I can show that the Catholic interpretation of Mary is supported by scripture and is viable and valid, then I will have fulfilled my mission successfully!

Mary as Spouse

On occasion I have come across the delineation of the Virgin Mary as "Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and Spouse of the Holy Spirit." This makes for a neat package, tying Mary in relationship to each person of the Trinity. The first two roles make perfect sense. Mary is the daughter of the Father, along with all Christian women, and obviously she bore Jesus, the Son of God. Referring to her as spouse of the Holy Spirit, however, poses some potential problems and leaves the door wide open for misunderstanding. The use of another title for Mary, "Bride of Christ", has similar issues. Due to the Church being understood as the Bride of Christ, and Mary being a unique and most exemplary member who often symbolizes "Mother Church", Mary herself is sometimes referred to as the spiritual bride of Jesus. Again, this blurs some obvious lines, and I feel that this designation is perhaps better left out of any reference to His mother.

First I would like to revisit the subject of gender in relation to conceptualizing the nature of God. God is pure spirit, neither male nor female in the way that we human beings are. He is not an androgynous being, either. Rather, both the masculine and feminine principles are contained within Him, as we men and women are made in His image. God is characterized biblically in both fatherly and motherly terms, yet it is the Father metaphor that is specifically used to denote the first person of the Trinity, and it is the name, Abba, Father that Jesus uses himself. I think of the first person of the Trinity as primarily a father. The Father in this sense is transcendent, while the Mother aspect is more immanent, even hidden, one might say. It is Mary through whom God reveals His maternal face, which is one reason why devotion to Mary as spiritual Mother is important.

God's masculine presence in human form is seen through Jesus, the Son, who is both fully human and fully divine, and is the son of Mary, a completely human creature. It was through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, and by the power of the Most High, that Jesus incarnated as a man. Mary was filled completely with the Holy Spirit and, in my estimation, received the indwelling of Holy Wisdom/Sophia, a feminine emanation of the Holy Spirit.

This process of the Incarnation does not indicate that Mary experienced the sacrament of marriage with the Holy Spirit, and it also does not imply any sexual activity. When people use the title "Spouse of the Holy Spirit" for Mary, they are expressing a spiritual union that occurred; still, it seems likely that this designation runs the risk of being confusing and, ultimately, theologically questionable.

I have previously written that I understand the Holy Spirit, due to the way the Spirit is described and functions in the Bible, as a primarily feminine person, especially in light of the feminine Hebrew name for the Spirit, Ruah. She is also often depicted as a mother bird or a dove, which is universally a feminine, spiritual symbol. But how could the Holy Spirit have formed a union with Mary that resulted in the Incarnation of Jesus in her womb if the Spirit is feminine? As I have previously stated, I read the verse in Luke as pointing to the working of the feminine Spirit coming upon Mary, and the masculine power of the Most High overshadowing her. Both principles were at work in this mystery. Because of our limitations in using the human language of gender when speaking of God, who is pure spirit, it is difficult to understand how the Holy Spirit could be understood in feminine terms. But this was a spiritual phenomenon, not a human marriage of opposite sexes.

But what of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and Son? This would seem to indicate that the Spirit could not be mother. Again, gender as we understand it in human terms is not the same in revelation of the divine nature of God. And I do not argue that the Holy Spirit is necessarily the Mother aspect of God, although I think this is somehow mystically possible under consideration of the creation of Adam and Eve. Eve was created from the rib of Adam, so that she became "flesh of his flesh, and bone of his bone." Eve, the "mother of all the living", proceeded from Adam, who was created by God the Father. Created last, she was indeed the pinnacle of God's work, so in a mystical sense, was at the same time first and last among creation.

Even if one completely disagrees with me on this point of the femininity of the Holy Spirit, there is another, compelling reason to avoid speaking of Mary as Spouse of the Holy Spirit in a literal way; that is, the fact that Mary had a human husband, and his name was Joseph! Joseph's role cannot be ignored, even if he did not have a sexual relationship with Mary. Under Jewish law this couple was married, and so Jesus was considered as much a son of Joseph as he would have been if he had been Joseph's biological child. Joseph was descended from the House of David, and therefore so was Jesus, as it had been prophesied of the coming Messiah in the Old Testament.

Joseph protected Mary (and her unborn child) from being stoned to death for alleged adultery. He protected them on the 70-mile, arduous journey through the desert from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and from there to Egypt to escape the murderous wrath of Herod. Joseph went with Mary to find Jesus in Jerusalem, where He had stayed behind in the temple after the Passover feast, and made sure that He returned safely home. Joseph's job as an earthly father to Jesus was an enormous responsibility, and so was his role as husband to Mary. Joseph was seen with Mary at the apparitions of Fatima in Portugal in modern times, and so he has evidently continued to be with Mary in heaven.

Considering all of these factors, I contend that a title such as Channel, or perhaps Mediatrix of the Holy Spirit, rather than Spouse (or Bride of Christ), would be far less confusing and more theologically accurate, and it would not undermine the very important part Joseph played in God's plan for the redemption and salvation of humanity. It also gives married women who are neither virgins nor mothers a more solid role model to look toward in the position of Mary as the wife of Joseph in a completely human, domestic relationship.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Mystical Rose

The post-Christian goddess-worship that we find in Europe and America seems to be in part a response to the loss of a sense of the feminine nature of the Church and of her cosmic significance. For any deeply Catholic or Orthodox mind, the Church is a person, typified in the Virgin Mary. The institutional aspects of the Church are subsidiary-or else they represent the "skeleton" that performs a necessary but ideally hidden function within the Body of that person. Her actual boundaries extend far beyond her formal membership, into the realm of nature itself. It is in her that the flowers bloom and the rivers flow. Through his telescope the atheist scientist gazes at her stars. One can in fact only exclude oneself from her by a conscious act of rejection.
The above quote comes from an article on Ecclesia, or Holy Mother Church, from "The Mystical Rose Catholic Page" online. This particular passage struck me because it speaks to the danger of an all-male religion that strives to separate the spiritual from the physical realm and to remove any trace of the feminine from God or any sense of divinity. It is difficult to talk about, but I knew the time would come to relate how I personally fell into the heresy of pagan spirituality. I always loved Jesus; that part of my belief system never changed. And if I had to categorize my religion in those days, I would (reluctantly) state it as Christian. I remember wishing that there were a way to designate that I was a follower of Jesus without using the word "Christian", since many people were turned off by the hypocrisy and biblical fanaticism of many Christians. I came across the phrase "Goddess Inclusive Christianity", but that seemed like an oxymoron.

I never worshiped a goddess, but I did become very interested in the goddess archetypes of Jungian psychology, which is similar to other forms of personality typing, only using the Greek goddesses, such as Aphrodite, Hera, and Demeter, as templates. I studied the goddess traditions and mythology of various cultures and would sometimes invoke a particular "goddess energy" to help strengthen me in a certain area. Need to feel more confident in love? Call on your inner Aphrodite energy! Witches had fascinated me since childhood, and the New Age/Old Religion of Wicca was compelling for its inclusion of feminine as well as masculine concepts of divinity, and in the ways in which it follows and celebrates natural cycles in its spirituality. But none of these explorations could be reconciled with Christianity, and none of them involve worship of the one, true God. Still, I longed for an image of the sacred feminine, and so for quite awhile I only attended church sporadically. This bothered me greatly, especially since I wanted my daughter to have the kind of church experiences I grew up with. But I was angry. Just simply angry that Christianity seemed to ignore the glaring fact that in Genesis, both male and female were created in the image of God. Preaching a male-only God is anti-biblical!

I put my faith in God and prayed for the answer as to what church I should belong, and I was led to the Catholic Church, a journey about which I have previously written. I have also discussed the artist Meinrad Craighead's desire to reintegrate authentic pagan spirituality into a developed Christian consciousness, and Charlene's Spretnak's lament in Missing Mary regarding the marginalization of Mary in the Church as a result of Vatican II. (Imagine how much more keenly Protestants like me felt the hole left in the wake of the Protestant Reformation with no Mary, ever, at all!) I will return now to considering these things.

The more I study Catholicism and Mariology, it seems that it isn't necessary, after all, to reintegrate pagan sensibilities, except perhaps to recover the primordial awareness of the divine feminine and bring it more fully to light. The feminine aspect of God is acknowledged by the Catholic Church. Ecclesia extends to the realm of "Mother Nature", with sacraments such as the bread and wine of the Eucharist and the waters of Baptism, which originally were rivers and lakes. The liturgical year, with its observances of holy days, feast days, and ordinary time, flows with the passing of the seasons. And it seems that the pendulum has swung back to a balanced approach to Marian devotion, and Mary is no longer such a missing person, perhaps ironically due in part to Protestant converts such as Scott and Kimberly Hahn, who through an agonizing study of the history of the Church and the Bible, came to understand the Catholic Church as the very church founded by Jesus. They and other converts, many of them former Protestant ministers, have written profound books on Catholic apologetics, which means a defense of the faith. Many "cradle Catholics" do not understand their religion as well as Protestant converts who read and researched their way as adults to find the one, true, catholic (which means "universal") and apostolic Church.

Perhaps the Protestant "reformers", such as Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli, had a serious problem with the authority of the Catholic Church, beyond just protesting against corruption within the Church. Perhaps they especially objected to the feminine nature of the Church as Mother, and the Virgin Mary as its exemplar. True, some Catholics of the Medieval period may have gotten carried away with their veneration of Mary. But much of that may have been misunderstood due to the poetic, courtly, feminine culture of the times, with its lords and ladies, its knights in shining armor and damsels in distress, and its exalted, glorious, over-the-top proclamations of love and honor. Flowers, fairies, goblins, wizards and witches were very popular in poetry, literature and plays. Think Shakespeare, and you get the picture.

I can relate to having a problem with authority. After I left my job as an esthetician to stay home with my baby, I vowed to never work for anyone else again. But now I am so grateful that there is a church that can claim authority, and only one that indeed can actually claim it at all, though riddled with the problems inherent to human nature that it has been. I can't wait to officially join the Mystical Body of Christ, to be nurtured by Ecclesia, through partaking of the Eucharist, which is the communion of Christians in the Real Presence, the Body and Blood of Christ. The Eucharist is not merely a symbol, or an aid to memory. The transubstantiation of the bread and wine truly feeds our spirits. The Holy Spirit is the living Soul of the Church that performs this sacrament through the priest. Mary represents most perfectly this person, Ecclesia, Mother Church, who is also the Bride of Christ. This mystical union of the material and spiritual, of the masculine and feminine, of the flesh and divinity, is what Christianity is all about. Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension make eternal life in the family of God possible.

The removal of liturgy, the absence of earthiness, and the rejection of the sacred feminine in many Protestant churches--what has resulted in so many Christians being deprived of the fullness of the faith--has tragically contributed to the turning of souls away from Christianity and toward pagan spirituality, even witchcraft. Having ventured in these dark realms myself, I can attest emphatically that the Catholic Church is NOT a pagan religion, but is rather as Christ-centered as they come. Catholic worship is literally centered in the Body and Blood of Christ. I am so grateful to have been pointed back in the direction of Jesus, by the Mother of my Lord herself.

I want to note also that Vatican II, in its quest for ecumenism between all Christian denominations, did not intend to kick the Mother of God out of the Church, as evidenced by this decree: "Mary is hailed as a pre-eminent and altogether singular member of the Church, and as the Church's model and excellent exemplar in faith and charity. Taught by the Holy Spirit, the Catholic Church honours her with filial affection and piety as a most beloved Mother." This wording sounds tame, and this may have been intentional so as not to offend Protestant sensibilities, but it nevertheless ties Mary inextricably to the fabric of the Church.

Furthermore, the Council states: "The Father of mercies willed that the consent of the predestined Mother should precede the Incarnation. She gave the world that very life that renews all things, and she was enriched by God with gifts befitting such a role. Rightly, therefore, the holy fathers see her as used by God not merely in a passive way but as co-operating in the work of human salvation through free faith and obedience."  Undoubtedly, these comments point to Mary's immaculate conception and her mediation in the graces of God by agreeing to become the mother of the Word. There has been no higher status afforded to a mere creature.

If we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we will ultimately share in His divinity. The Bible speaks of the divinization of humanity. We may in all reality share Jesus' very blood, become His kin, beyond adopted sons and daughters of the Father. And since Jesus took his flesh and blood from Mary, we are truly her children too!