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Why Convert?

Rod Dreher shares a letter that Mother Thekla, an Orthodox nun, composed for a possible convert to Orthodoxy. She said in part:

I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.

So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?

Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?

Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?

Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?

Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?

Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?

OR…..

Have you read the Gospels?

Have you faced Christ crucified?

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For me a real stumbling block to faith is that there are 2 churches, Orthodox and Catholic. The various Protestant denominations don't have that effect on me perhaps because they're breakaways from the Roman church and  they don't have[all] the sacraments.Or  because they're so much part of our culture.A real sign from God would be for me the reunification of the 2 churches. I know even looking for a sign is a temptation against faith that  I should not pay any mind to.I have experienced the awesomness of their mass  and I love the book" In Search of True Wisdom".Perhaps the fact that Pope Francis explicitly  recognizes the fact of the  schism as a true scandal, is/should be  sign enough for me.

An aside:

I was hoping that on the great feast of the Annunciation of the Lord (Easter, Christmas, Pentecost, Epiphany, Annunciation) some reflection on the feast would have been provided on the dotCommonweal site.

And the Word was made flesh. And dwelt among us.

John Page,

Matthew Boudway in his post has thoughtfully complied with your request for an explicit reflection on the Annunciation.

But I had hoped that the above letter of Mother Thekla offered some indication of what the Word dwelling among us truly entails.

This reminds me that in his Easter sermon to the newly baptized St. Augustine frequently warns them that they are going to encounter lots of imperfect and even wicked Christians. And in the model catechesis he offered in his work on catechizing, he mentioned that "it is inside the Catholic Church itself that the greatest care is needed, so that no one is tempted and misled by people whom the Church carries along like chaff until the time of winnowing." And he offered an example of what might be said:

In the Church you are going to notice numerous drunkards, misers, cheats, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, people using sacrilegious amulets, consulting spell-chanters and astrologers or soothsayers using all sorts of wicked arts. You will also notice that the same crowds that fill the churches on Christian feast-days fill the theatres on pagan solemnities, and seeing these things, you will be tempted to imitate them. And why do I say, “You will see,” when you already know this: you’re not unaware that many called Christians do all the wicked things I have briefly mentioned and that they sometimes may do things even worse.” (De catechizandis rudibus, 25, 48)

If St. Augustine and many other devout christians such as Mother Thekla are right that those in the church, in any and all denominations, are as bad as those outside the church, and may actually be, according to St. Augustine's counsel that the "greatest care is needed", even more dangerous as far as "misleading or tempting" others because of being in the church, then why should people join any church?  Maybe it's better to avoid formal religion and instead study and pray alone and with a few others that you trust rather than risk being misled by those who carry the cover of church authority.  This seems to be the conclusion that more and more people in America are reaching. Mother Thekla and Augustine have given some good reasons for people to "not convert". They don't need formal religion to read the gospels and try to live as Jesus would have us live and by staying unchurched people avoid the snares of  being too trusting of those in formal religion.  Mother Tekla offered a lot of warnings in her letter and talked about joining for "negative reasons" but she also didn't offer any positive reasons why anyone should convert to Orthodoxy, or any other formal denomination for that matter.

I really wish Mother Thekla's letter (or Flannery O'Connor's letters to her convert friend, or something like them) were the starting point for RCIA. Instead of talking about what form you may have been baptized with or whether you'd been divorced, it would be nice to be challenged with, "Have you faced Christ Crucified?" 

I feel that Americans, even those who regular church-goers, are losing the language with which to talk about God and religious experience. Many of us us walk around with this vague yearning for real dialog, but what we get after Mass (Anglican or RCC) is usually gossip about the neighbors. The people I find myself talking about God with tend to be evangelical Protestants. These are faith-filled and lovely people (though they're a bit heavy on the Daddy Jesus imagery for my taste, and, big drawback, no saints). But they have retained an enthusiasm for talking about faith that's lacking in many mainline Protestant congregations and Catholic parishes.

Jean Raber, what do you mean by "facing Christ crucified"?   How do you personally "face" Christ crucified?  What do you believe about why he was crucified?  Was it to "redeem" human beings for their sins because otherwise God would send every human being to hell because there was no blood sacrifice? Or is it some other reason?  What does the crucifixion say to you?  I find that a lot of people drop phrases/questions like that (such as "face Christ crucified")  but when I ask more, they can't really elaborate much on what the phrase or question really means to them.  If you were running an RCIA class, what would you tell the students? Is there a "right" or "wrong" answer to "have you faced Christ crucified"?  I wonder how many different ways people would answer that question.

Jeanne, I don't know how to give your questions a simple answer. Here is a stab, which will perhaps illustrate my point about our losing the language with which to talk about faith:

1. I don't think you can "personally" face Christ crucified. I don't believe in a Christ who is my "personal" savior. If Jesus were right here and I said, "Thank you for being my savior," I think he would heave a great big sigh and tell me he is everyone's savior, and why aren't I doing a better job helping spread the word? For more in this vein, see Teresa of Avila, "Christ has no body but yours." I think you meet Christ in community with others through the sacrament of communion (whether you take it physically or, like me, hope for spiritual communion at Mass). Watching the breaking of the bread is a reminder that we are part of Christ, broken, but that we have, perhaps, the power (if you want to call it that), to call Christ to us and heal.

2. No, I don't believe Jesus was sacrificed like a goat for a God with a taste for blood, though I know a lot of people who think that. Maybe they're right. But I believe Jesus showed us what love does when love is pushed to the limit. Love crawls up on a cross and dies rather than punishes others for their stupidity and sins--even when Love has the power to end the whole show with a great big flood or bolt of lightning.

3. Looking at a crucifix asks me what I am willing to die for. What means more to me than saving my own hide. Would I truly follow the Prime Directives: Love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself if it meant I have to die for them? Um, well, I think I could probably figure out ways to let myself off the hook if push came to shove, which is why we all need to be fed with the bread of heaven in some form. So that in "eating" Jesus we can be consumed by him and become more like him. It's a mystery. It's a paradox. Some days I get it. Some days I don't. 

4. There's no way an apostate like me is ever going to run an RCIA class.  But the first question out of my mouth would not be, "Now, how are your marriages? Because if you decide you want to come into the Church by Easter, we need to get the paperwork rolling." Some candidates don't even know what the RCIA people are talking about.

5. Is there more than one right answer? I don't know. It took me 60 years to be able to answer questions 1-4.

Jeanne,

It is certainly the case that there are "many different ways people would answer." And, undoubtedly, individuals would answer differently at different stages of their own journey of faith. But i think many would dwell on the conviction that in Christ crucified they see God's unbounded and unmerited love for them and for all people.

After I started to write the above, Jean Raber's reflection came in. She says it more eloquently than I, so I won't continue!

 Maybe it's better to avoid formal religion and instead study and pray alone and with a few others that you trust rather than risk being misled by those who carry the cover of church authority."

No. Then we never would have met a John XXIII, a Francis, a Thomas Reese, a Bernard Haring, many on this blog and so many other great friends and examples who aid us, sinners that we are, in this great journey.   

Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof.

And yet... we can still try to understand, knowing that it is beyond our understanding. Try to make sense from faith, knowing that faith is beyond logic. Try to eliminate contradictions, knowing that we will never be completely satisfied. We can always learn more about God and make progress in understanding. She's right that we'll never acquire complete knowledge of truth here in this life, but why should that prevent us from trying to acquire partial knowledge? 

Additionally, Mother Thekla is dismissive of "happiness", but why does she say not one word of the happiness that comes from living a Christian life?

 

Claire,

of course the letter is a brief effort to make one crucial point. But I suppose were she to address the issue of Christian joy she might take as point of departure her assertion: "Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride."

How would you begin to address the question you pose concerning "the happiness that comes from living a Christian life?"

On the spot I can think of two ways in which we Christians are happy. One, we are not lost: we have a sense of direction. Two, we are not alone: we know that we are loved. How about you?

I don't think the variety of Christian churches should be a stumbling block to faith. Christianity has never been a single pure entity, and no church within it has ever been such. A living faith, responsive to our neighbors, in all their foreignness and increasingly discovered human diversity, and responsive to the signs fo the times, often radically new, will embrace the "mess" wherein the divine has pitched its tent. Such an embrace might not lead to a change of church affiliation but it would certainly make one sensitive to the riches of other traditions and ready to rejoice in them. Living faith cannot become obsessed with the puriy of a single church package, for it is responsive to stirrings and energies of the Spirit coming from all directions. 

" love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride."

Actually I reacted negatively to that sentence. It's a little bit imprecise, don't you think? You don't love sacrifice for its own sake, but rather because it makes room for Christ, right?

But the more important question is: what are the authentic Roman Catholic recipes for Easter festivities?

"You don't love sacrifice for its own sake, but rather because it makes room for Christ, right?"

yes -- and that's the joy.

Bill Mazella, it is very possible to "meet" people such as those you name, such as Francis, Thomas Reese, and thousands of theologians like Haring without being a member of the Roman Catholic church. Mother Thekla was warning a potential convert that no religion is "perfect", and Fr. Imbelli pointed out that this echoes what St. Augustine said. Of course they are right and no single denomination nor even a single religion has all the insight and understanding out there.

So why limit yourself to membership in just one - there is a huge family of godly and wise people out there.  You can find spiritual companions and community outside of churches. You can read what Francis says or Haring or Kung or other Catholic theologians but you can also read N.T. Wright and Rowan Williams or even Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. You can learn from Jewish theologians like Abraham Heschel or Orthodox philosophers like Nikolai Berdyaev. You can study the insights of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh or Rumi.  You can read mystics like Eckhart or Julian of Norwich or Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and you can read contemporary spiritual writers like Thomas Merton and Evelyn Underhill or Henri Nouwen.  You can study Bede Griffiths and Raimon Panikkar. I am not a theologian so don't read too much of the heavy theological writers because they have a specialized vocabulary. But, there is a lot out there for we non-scholars, for ordinary people that is easy to grasp and provides ample thoughts for reflection. All have something worthwhile to say, reflecting their own backgrounds and cultures and assumptions and life experiences.

So, to go back to Mother Thekla’s question – why convert to any single denomination if you are christian?  Because you can learn from all major branches of Christianity and you can learn from all the great non-christian religions also.  I do like what she points out about knowledge and  faith though - it accepts the reality that we humans can't actually know and I also like her focus on reading the gospels and on love. Since Jesus in the gospels tells us to love, nobody really needs a formal church to tell them that do they?

 

Jean Raber, I like most of what you say (and Fr. Imbelli), but it raises another question.  What does it really mean to say that "Jesus is my/our (everyone's) savior"?  That's another one of those phrases you hear all the time but nobody really explains exactly what they mean by it, except for some of the fundamentalists and evangelicals who believe that Jesus had to die on the cross so God would forgive sins, and that nobody is saved except for born again christians.

What did he save us from and how did he do it (for those who agree (in spite of the implications of the Agnus Dei) that Jesus wasn't a sacrificial lamb who had to die to appease an angry god?

Jeanne L, 

I should have said most of all in the parish church. One can look for a better parish if one is too obnoxious. But a few friends can change. The Eucharist is  pivotal. That unity should be everywhere in the world. Just not in a particular location. 

The questions Jeanne asks are ones I think about too ... the idea that Jesus saved us by dying for our sins, for example, doesn't make sense to me.  Despite his death, not to mention his life of teaching, humnan nature is still frail ... we still 'sin' ... and when we die it's taught that people who are bad still go to hell.  So in what way have we been saved?

Anthony deMello proposes an exercise when you are suffering or experiencing intractable difficulties. He suggests looking at the crucifix, then glancing at your problem, then back to the crucifix and so on for as long as it takes. Strange as it may seem, this method does actually work.

The sign of the cross is one of those mysteries, a folly to the Gentiles and a scandal to the Jews but for those who believe, both Gentile and Jew, the wisdom and power of God.

There has to be a better answer to suffering than "it could be worse".

I didn't say that. There is no answer. But the method does work but not in any way that can be explained, only experienced,

De Mello is echoing Newman's unforgettable lenten sermon, "The Cross of Christ the Measure of the World". http://www.newmanreader.org/works/parochial/volume6/sermon7.html

Anthony deMello proposes an exercise when you are suffering or experiencing intractable difficulties. He suggests looking at the crucifix, then glancing at your problem, then back to the crucifix and so on for as long as it takes.

Hoo boy. This is nothing more than belittling the suffering of anyone but Jesus. "If you think you've got it bad, look at ME hanging here, I should be so lucky to have YOUR problems." 

My mother-in-law used to do this. If you had a tragedy in your life, it was NOTHING compared with what she'd been through.

Moreover, Jesus' suffering took place over the course of a day or two. Visit a terminal cancer patient and tell me the Cross's message is, "Well, you could be a lot worse off."

No, I utterly reject that, and it pisses me off. 

The point is that Jesus is connected to us in some way (Jeanne L, I'll tell you right now I don't know how that works any more than I understand how I somehow feel a link to all cats through my cats or all children through my son), and he suffers when we do because he cares about us.

So why limit yourself to membership in just one - there is a huge family of godly and wise people out there.  

Who said anything about limiting? I was raised a Unitarian Universalist. I was exposed to everybody from Albert Schweitzer to Gandhi to Fr. Damien of the Lepers. But at some point, you have to sort through all those examples and find the commonality. What are they? Those folks all died on the cross figuratively or literally. They suffered for (and sometimes because of other people).

I saw a story about a man on the news the other night who is the only mental health worker among half a million people in Liberia, where PTSD is rampant due to the civil war. His government salary was cut, so he does his work for free, walking to wherever people need him to offer talk therapy because there are no more drugs available. I have no idea what religion the man follows, if any, but he's already among the communion of saints in heaven. How do I know? Because Jesus tells me that what you have done to the least of these, you have also done to me. 

Jesus was speaking to those who don't help others, but I think his remark cuts the other way, too.

What did he save us from and how did he do it?

Good question. He saved us from a life of meaninglessness and the emptiness of materialism. "All the way to heaven is heaven," said Dorothy Day.

You can believe that without even believing in heaven--and I didn't believe in heaven for a long time. I'm still not sure I do some days. Some days, I think heaven would be just fine if it were an eternal and dreamless sleep, our bodies going back to the elements. Some days, I think St. Brigid's version of heaven would be nice:

I would like the angels of Heaven to be among us. I would like an abundance of peace. I would like full vessels of charity. I would like rich treasures of mercy. I would like cheerfulness to preside over all. I would like Jesus to be present. I would like the three Marys of illustrious renown to be with us. I would like the friends of Heaven to be gathered around us from all parts. I would like myself to be a rent payer to the Lord; that I should suffer distress, that he would bestow a good blessing upon me. I would like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I would like to be watching Heaven's family drinking it through all eternity.

 

Crystal and Jean, I did not at all interpret the Anthony DeMello exercice proposed by George as a way to compare our suffering to Christ's and to consider how much worse off he was. No, I thought it was some kind of meditation on how he is connected to us. We suffer, he suffered. We are not alone, he "suffers when we do because he cares about us". This, I guess, could be what someone takes away from that exercice. It may help make Christ present to us. Bernardin, as I remember, once wrote that he could not pray when he was suffering. Maybe that exercice suggests a way to do it.

I'm not sure what would happen if you try it when you experience intractable difficulties, are in a deadend and are faced with some kind of Cornelian choice involving sin and death in every direction you consider. 

'Hoo boy. This is nothing more than belittling the suffering of anyone but Jesus. "If you think you've got it bad, look at ME hanging here, I should be so lucky to have YOUR problems."'

Surely that's not the only way to think about this exercise. Does it have to be about comparison? I could imagine it giving meaning to your suffering, as when Paul says, "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" in Colossians.

I think many of us have experienced people in great affliction, physical or psychological, holding tightly and wordlessly to the crucifix as to an anchor in a raging sea.

As the Eucharistic prayer says in words that used to bring me into the prayer: "For our sake he opened his arms on the cross". 

 it is very possible to "meet" people such as those you name, such as Francis, Thomas Reese, and thousands of theologians like Haring without being a member of the Roman Catholic church. Mother Thekla was warning a potential convert that no religion is "perfect", and Fr. Imbelli pointed out that this echoes what St. Augustine said. Of course they are right and no single denomination nor even a single religion has all the insight and understanding out there.  So why limit yourself to membership in just one - there is a huge family of godly and wise people out there.  You can find spiritual companions and community outside of churches. You can read what Francis says or Haring or Kung or other Catholic theologians but you can also read N.T. Wright and Rowan Williams or even Marcus Borg and Dominic Crossan. You can learn from Jewish theologians like Abraham Heschel or Orthodox philosophers like Nikolai Berdyaev. You can study the insights of the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh or Rumi.  You can read mystics like Eckhart or Julian of Norwich or Theresa of Avila and John of the Cross, and you can read contemporary spiritual writers like Thomas Merton and Evelyn Underhill or Henri Nouwen.  You can study Bede Griffiths and Raimon Panikkar.

This is all true, and a reason, I think, to rejoice.  It is also sympathetic to what the 2nd Vatican Council noted about the relationship between the various churches, denominations and faiths: that, without glossing over the things that prevent us from being in full communion, yet we have many commonalities and connections - perhaps more than are visible to the human eye.  

I also think that we see many real-life manifestations of these inter-denominational / interfaith relationships: in our marriages, in our friendships, on our theology faculties, in ecumenical dialogues, in formal and informal joint initiatives in our communities, in the music we sing in church - many ways in which we've managed to knock holes in the firewalls that separate one church from another.  In our community, churches of many different denominations coordinate to provide shelter for the homeless.  That is, I believe, the kind of thing that makes the angels and saints in heaven rejoice.

 

Apologies.

Maybe it's better to avoid formal religion and instead study and pray alone and with a few others that you trust rather than risk being misled by those who carry the cover of church authority.  This seems to be the conclusion that more and more people in America are reaching. 

Jeanne - right.  A couple of thoughts: 

  • Your observation reminded me for some reason that, in the history of Christianity, there have been various ways that individuals have tried to keep the faith yet separate oneself from the problems that are all too evident in the hurly-burly of the mainstream Christian community.  Monastics, hermits, anchorites/esses - probably many other forms.  Most of them may seem strange to us today.  Perhaps one of the paradoxes of modern life is that, now that there are many more of us than ever before, it has become easier than ever to wall oneself in and keep everyone else out.
  • I have to say that I'm somewhat skeptical that Christian faith can flourish over the long run, separated from the nourishment and sustenance of a faith community.  I just think that the challenges and temptations of the modern world will cause our faith to wither.  I believe we see this happening in our world today, in many of the families in which the parents have faith or denominational differences, and so the children grow up rooted in neither denomination.  They end up being rooted in no faith tradition in particular.   I suppose they are candidates to be evangelized.  The church has a mission to such people.

Claire and Fr. Imbelli are correct around the point of de Mello's exercise. It is not comparison and contrast. There is no sense to suffering, or any intrinsic meaning. It is something disordered, wrong, and somehow we all intuitively feel it. Christ too felt it and experienced it. So, when I have done the exercise, I am comforted knowing that he too went through the very same experience. Doubts, anguish, questions, anxieties...all of it is right there. No need for words just solidarity. And there really is a kind of grace that surfaces, a peace.

Granted, there are a great many people from all kinds of traditions that can have all kinds of methods but this one is one that can be shared among anybody of any religion. It is truly the sign of the cross.

In fact just last night i did. We received word on the weekend that my sister-in-law, only 41, has stomach cancer and needs to have her stomach completely removed and undergo chemotherapy. They are moving quick. She found out last Thursday and within a couple weeks the surgery is occurring so what does that tell you!

 She has kids still in elementary school and was divorced a few years back. Thank God she has family in the community who can stay with her. In an instant, it has effected everybody in her circle. She is not, at all, a religiously oriented person but we are close and I would not suffest it but I did the exercise for me. Just helps to be able to be a comfort to my wife who is walking around like a zombie (understandably) as is I am sure her other family members.

So yes, exactly as Fr said, holding tightly as an anchor in a raging sea. Not that it will give answers but it is indeed a comfort.

When I'm suffering or when someone I care about is, I get more comfort from the bits in the gospels where Jesus healed people and raised them from the dead then I do from imagining him suffering too.    The only time I've ever really dwelt on Jesus crucified was during a retreat ... a week of it ... and it was awful.  I don't understand how anyone can find comfort in imaging someone they love suffering.

Crystal --

The comfort is in knowing that someone is loves us so much that they are willing to suffer for us.  Aren't you willing to suffer for those you love?  That doesn't mean you enjoy the suffering.  Just the opposite, and that's why suffering is a proof of love.

Ann,

Sure I'm willing to suffer for those I love, but is that the ultimate sign of love?  Why isn't being willing to live for others better than being willing to die for them?  And what of us .... do we really want those we love and who love us to suffer for us?  I don't.

I don't think we an say what the ultimate sign of love is.  I suspect it differs from person to person.  But that doesn't change the fact that love can be the reason one chooses oo suffer.   And what would be Christ's ultimate sign of love for us, if not dying for us as He did?  It wasn't fair, but it was loving.  

What exactly does the "for" entail in your penultimate sentence, Ann? I've never understood it.

I think the idea that Jsesus chose to die for us is such a basic and pervasive Christian idea that most people don't question it.  Being a convert from atheism to Catholicism, all this stuff has been pretty new to me and it jusr doesn't all make sense to me.  I can't help thinking that it is Jesus' life, his acts and words, that have saved us, and not  by some magic atonement thingy but by revealing to us what God is really like.  I think his death might have been inevitable given his times and the way he lived his life, but I don't think he came here purposely to die, and I don't want to celebrate his torture and murder.  This probably makes me a heretic  ;)

Oh, I should say I *do* believe in the resurrection, so not a total hereetic, I guess  :)

It seems to me that one important element being missed is the incarnation (or the word became flesh as John describes in his gospel).  Aquinas held that redemption began at the incarnation (appropros the feast of the Annunciation yesterday). God taking on flesh in Jesus was in a sense, then, taking on all human flesh.

So his death and resurrection, changes all of humanity by the incarnation alone. Paul says that just as all died in Adam, all rise in Christ (Corinthians 15:22). Thus, his death is ALL death, his suffering is ALL suffering, and his redemption is ALL redemption (I am with Origen on that one!).

Sin = death and the consequence of sin was death. The mystery is that death (i.e. sin) has been conquered. That is why in the funeral liturgy, it is written that "life has not ended, its changed"

Abe --

I don't understand *why* it is the case that when one actually chooses to accept suffering for the sake of another that that is a loving act, but I cannot help but see *that* it is so.  If A loves B, then A will choose to suffer FOR B.  And that's what the "for" means in my second to last sentence -- for the sake of.  I'm not talking about any atonement. 

You can say that is isn't fair that God made the world work that way, that some innocents (the lovers) *choose* to suffer for those they love -- they *chooe* something that is evil in some way, i.e., pain.  But that just brings us back to the problem of the suffering of innocents, the biggest theological mystery of all.  As to that mystery, the only thing that makes any sense to me at all is this:  if God chose to make people, knowing that people are the kind of thing capable of suffering -- and of love -- then that limits His effects to a world in which there is pain in innocent beings.  In other words, if there is pain in this world it is ulltimately because that is what WE are (beings capable of suffering), not because of what God is in Himself.  Though, given that pain is a positive reality (we know that because we can distinguish different kinds of pain from each other), then it follows that  pain itslef must somehow mirror what God is in Himself.  In other words, God Himself suffers in some analogous sense..

How can it be right that God would choose to make such a world, knowing that there will be pain in it?  It seems to me that that would be consistent with a loving God *only* if He knows from the beginning that the suffering creatures will ultimately be grateful for their existence in spite of their suffering.  In other words, He knows that there will be a Heaven for the just, and the animals will be some place equivalent for them.

This also implies, I think, that God suffers with all His suffering creatures.  And Jesus' death confirms that that is the sort of reality God is -- He suffers with us, but we also know that He was resurrected and has promised that we too shall be resurrected.  He thereby teaches us this lesson:  life in this world is hard, but eternal life shall make up for it and then some.  The Crucifixion is for teaching us that.

St. Augustine says somewhere that Christ's death on the Cross was meant to teach us humility.  I think that is consonant with the way I see the above -- we were not meant to be perfect creatures in *our* sense of perfect for the simple reason that we are by nature capable of suffering -- we think it's an imperfection.  So we must learn that hard lesson, but we will agree that it will be worth it in the end.

Hey, guys,

Rod Dreher recommends this thread, quoting Jean Raber's and Jeanne L,'s  exchange.

 Mother Thekla, Part II

This is not snark, Ann: I am genuinely clueless as to how to respond to what your wrote, other than to say that it explains nothing to me.

Abe, returning to your contention that you don't fathom what "for" entails, I presume you don't mean the word itself, but its theological significance. "For" is surely one of the key words of the New Testament indicating Christ's loving self gift for our sake, for the many, for the forgiveness of sin.

I take it that your difficulty is not so much with the word as with the connection between one person's life and death and the salvation of all. Or do I misunderstand your point?

Jeanne L., without addressing all your points, it does seem to me that expecting individuals to carry forward a significant theological tradition through their own private means is not too different from expecting them to carry forward some other significant discipline -- science or liberal arts -- without there being universities.  Even if all the institution does is give employment to the truly gifted, that makes it much more likely their gifts will be employed in a way that allows them to achieve more than they would have on their own.  And certainly, organized efforts at charity and relief are difficult to a single person who is not wealthy without an organizational framework.  This seems self-evident to me.  The harder question is whether that same dynamic works all the way down to every single person sitting in the pews.  This leads to a kind of person who is glad the church exists even if they don't personally go to church. 

What I would not do is feel obligated to go to a particular church or to participate in church according to the traditional means laid out for you as proper.  There are most likely alternatives if you feel inclined to pursue something.   

Jeanne H.R.: That was a really lovely and moving reflection on your part.  Thanks.

Father Imbelli, I believe that you have understood my difficulty. I understand what the primary semantic force of "for" tends to be when Christians say that Christ died for x or y (which is to say that I assume it's based in, say, Roman 5:8's use of huper). You are correct in observing that I don't understand the how. I suspect that the confusing way it gets talked about nowadays stems from the great remove of modern interpreters from the sacrificial context of the ancient Mediterranean, which is to say that the whole thing would make a lot more sense, if people were more willing to call it a blood sacrifice. 

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