Friday, April 06, 2007

If you can believe anything the Church teaches about itself, why can't you believe everything it teaches?

For my Lenten discipline, I've been reading the Bible straight through. I picked up in the middle of Genesis where I left off several months ago, and have been trying to do it in smaller chunks so I don't get overwhelmed and give up; I've found that when I do something for Lent, it's easier for me to keep to the discipline, so I figured, why not give it a shot? It's Easter and I'm now into the first book of Maccabees, and might finish the whole thing by summer.

I must say it helps tremendously seeing all the familiar readings in their broader contexts (and completely in order, as much as the old books are in order at all), both in understanding for myself and in responding to people who get upset over the distorted impressions they have of Scripture. Except for the repetitive constructions in the second book of Chronicles, I didn't even find it to be too dry. Okay, some of the genealogies and censuses in the Pentateuch didn't do much for me either, but they were shorter and easier to skim than the stuff in the later books I've gotten through so far. Either way, I'm not doing an in depth study at this point, so it's not like I'm sedating myself trying to reconstruct all the travels of Samuel or to uncover the pastoral reason for why the ephod or any of the other vestments were purple or had red thread or whatever.

Anyway, I was talking to someone about it a few weeks ago, and pointed out something that I found interesting. Inside the front cover of my Bible were these words:

A partial indulgence is granted to the failthful who use Sacred Scripture for spiritual reading with the veneration due the word of God. A plenary indulgence is granted if the reading continues for at least one half hour. (Enchiridion Inndulgentiarum)

The respone I got was "I didn't even know they still do indulgences...I'm not sure I believe in them, either."

"No? Why not?"

"Well, how can we know God's always going to do what they say when we do any of these things?"

All right, how can we? Obviously we can't prove it empirically; there's no tangible evidence we can observe. However, Jesus told His apostles that what they bind or loose on Earth will be bound or loosed in heaven--when Peter said that Jesus would pay the temple tax, even, Jesus had Peter catch a fish that had a coin in its mouth to pay the tax, even though it would not be proper (or at least not necessary) for the Son of God to give money for the House of God.

There's more, though. If you're going to doubt that God's going to honor the pious proclamations of His disciples, despite an obvious example of Him doing so in Matthew 17, what's stopping you from doubting that God's going to act every time someone pronounces a blessing or a priest does one of the sacraments? Habit, familiarity--does the ubiquity of the mass give you the impression that God will be more dilligent about performing a real miracle, or less? Hey, maybe last Sunday the Holy Spirit didn't come upon the bread and wine at mass, and they ended up not becoming the Body and Blood of Christ; maybe God felt that a simple symbolic communion would be appropriate at that time.

Most Catholics would probably agree that such logic sounds silly when it's applied to an actual sacrament, and I'd be thrilled to hear that people put more faith in the Eucharist than in anything else, but what's harder to believe: that God became man and shared with some of his followers the authority to turn common food into His Body and Blood, or that God shared with some of His followers the authority to commute the temporal punishment due for sin along side the ability to forgive it?

Here's a hint. Is it easier to say "your sins are forgiven" or "rise and walk?"

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