26 January 2014

New beginning

Yesterday, 25 January, ended the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity for 2014 - which begins on the 18th January, the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter and ends on the 25th, the feast of the Conversion of St Paul.

God, in redeeming man, chose to do so not as a collection of atoms, but by uniting men in one Man, His Son Jesus - as, indeed, He had created man in one man Adam.  In God's own being is exhibited the mystery of unity in diversity - three Persons, one God - and their union is the union of love.

I had been brought up with no slightest trace of religion - and my conversion at the end of 1969 was strictly personal; yet it could not remain so, and over the ensuing 20 or so years I grew increasingly to see that this 'atomic salvation' - this 'just me and Jesus' life of faith - was not enough.  Israel was a unity - based on faith, cult (way of worship), and law.  When Israel was divided into two nations, although God did not simply abandon those who were not in union with Judah, it is clear that His people was Judah.  Indeed, the prophets promise the end of that division - in the Messiah.

I soon saw that I must join 'a church.'  It was a move in the right direction - but a move that made me begin to think about the whole question of where the 'new Israel' - the Church - was.  As I have explained in earlier posts, from September, 1993 I grew increasingly convinced it was the Catholic Church.  All the baptised are, to be sure, in a union with this Church - but a union that the Church itself describes as 'imperfect.'  Perfect union is the union of love and that union is a union of faith - believing the same things - of cult - worshipping in the same way - and of law - submission to that Church as Christ's Rule and Kingdom between His first and final coming.

Now, Sunday 24, 1995, this was to reach its consummation.  I and Susan, Helen, Eddie, and Adele, were to be reunited with the Body.

We had been attending Mass for one year now.  We were used to the service.  At Communion time, we went up with arms folded so that Father could bless us.  Today was rather different.  We were invited up at the beginning of Mass.  Father presented us to the congregation.  We were then asked to make the following statement of faith - words from my memory, but the substance is this:
I believe and hold what the Church believes and teaches
The asymmetry  is essential.  I believe the teachings of the Church on the Church's word - for I believe it is the mouth of Christ.

We then received the Sacrament of Confirmation.  Father Jude had been given faculties from the Bishop to administer the Sacrament.  Each of us had chosen his Confirmation saint - and were named by the saint.  Father, in anointing me, said to me, "Francis, be sealed with the gift of the Holy Spirit" - for my Confirmation saint is St Francis de Sales, who was the Bishop of Geneva at the beginning of the Seventeenth Century, and brought thousands of Calvinists back into the Church.

After our Confirmation, at Communion time, we received the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist - the first time.

Dear friends of mine from the Newman Centre at the University - Sister Kate Franich, two lay women whose names, I am embarrassed to say, I have forgotten - and, I think, Father Aquinas McComb, the priest there at the time.  They came to our house for lunch after Mass.  Sister Kate I still see in Auckland from time to time.

That evening we attended Midnight Christmas Mass - the first time we had entered Mass as Communicant Catholics.  A journey that had started for me that had started on Sunday 28 December, 1969, had, as I supposed, ended.

It was, after all, not only an end, but a beginning.

25 January 2014


I went to Confession today.  Today is Saturday and for at least the last fifteen years I have gone to Confession almost every Saturday.

When I was a Protestant, I was told that 'auricular Confession' - detailing your sins and expressing your sorrow with another human being listening - was unBiblical, even, perhaps, anti-Biblical.  Does not John tell us "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (I John 1:9)?  To be sure, James tells us "Confess your faults one to another..." (James 5:16), but perhaps that only means I should admit to you that I have wronged you if I have, in fact, done so.

I knew only that Confession 'to a priest' was a requirement of the Catholic faith.  I understood that it is not the priest himself that I am making my confession to; it is Christ.  "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Luke 5:21).  I had read quite a lot of Catholic theology before I entered the Church.  I even knew that it was not always necessary to receive the Sacrament to be forgiven.  Perfect contrition - which isn't as terrifyingly difficult as it may sound; it means sorrow for sin because of love of God, rather than simply because of fear of Hell, for example, or sorrow for hurting others - perfect contrition forgives sin.  For the non-Catholic, who does not know of the requirement for the Sacrament at least for serious post-baptismal sin, perfect contrition forgives his sin.

Nonetheless, the norm for dealing with sin is the Sacrament.  I think it has only been gradually, over the years I have been a Catholic, that I have come somewhat to understand the point of Confession as a Sacramental act - and therefore as involving the Church.

We are all in this business of life together.

The universe is a vast echo chamber.  My actions, my thoughts, my failures to act, traverse the spaces between the stars - and they affect every human being; some more directly than others, of course.  Even my 'private' sins - my evil thoughts, my laziness, my unforgiveness - affect everyone with whom I come in contact; and, through them, others, and so on.

This is easy to see simply on a human level.  The state of my heart affects the type of person I am, and that has its effects on others.  But there is a level, invisible to the eye of man, the spiritual level, that is far more important.  None of my sins is private - and as a corollary, none of my good deeds is private, either (which should shed light on the much-misunderstood Catholic practice of indulgences - though that must be for another time).

But the world is one - in Christ.

I don't think we understand this very well, really.  As a Protestant I thought of my relation to Christ and my salvation.  But John 3:16 says that "God so loved the world..."  To be sure that means that He loved John Jensen and Susan Jensen and Tom and Dick and Harry.  And it is also true that the giving of His Son does not mean automatic salvation for everyone.  This also is a mystery, for this one has heard the good news and received it; that one has heard and rejected it; this other one has never heard at all.  The Calvinist knows that it is a mystery: he says that God simply chooses some and leaves others.  This, to my mind, is hardly an explanation, and not, indeed, very helpful.  Nonetheless, it is true that everyone who has ever existed - even those who died before Jesus of Nazareth came into being - is somehow in Christ.

And the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ:

Roman Catholicism[edit]

1 Corinthians, from the Douai Bible, 1749
For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. — 1 Corinthians 12:12-14
The first meaning that Catholics attach to the expression "Body of Christ" is the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church quotes with approval, as "summing up the faith of the holy doctors and the good sense of the believer", the reply of Saint Joan of Arc to her judges: "About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter."[7] In the same passage, it also quotes Saint Augustine: "Let us rejoice then and give thanks that we have become not only Christians, but Christ himself. Do you understand and grasp, brethren, God's grace toward us? Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ. For if he is the head, we are the members; he and we together are the whole man.... the fullness of Christ then is the head and the members. But what does 'head and members' mean? Christ and the Church." In light of all this, the Catholic Church calls itself the "universal sacrament of salvation" for the whole world, as it dispenses the sacraments, which give the grace of Christ himself to the recipient.
Saint Paul the Apostle spoke of this unity of Christians with Christ, referred to in the New Testament also in images such as that of the vine and the branches,[8] in terms of a single body that has Christ as its head in Romans 12:5,1 Corinthians 12:12-27Ephesians 3:6 and 5:23Colossians 1:18 and 1:24.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ."[9] The Catechism spells out the significance of each of these three aspects.
To distinguish the Body of Christ in this sense from his physical body, the term "Mystical Body of Christ" is often used. This term was used as the first words, and so as the title, of the encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi of Pope Pius XII. In that document, Pope Pius XII clearly states, "the mystical Body of Christ... is the Catholic Church."
Which means my sin is always against Christ - and Confession is, therefore, a Sacrament - the giving to me of grace from Christ - which is nothing else but to say that it is perfecting my union with His Body.

I went into the Confessional with Father Jude that Saturday the 23rd of December with fear and trembling.  I was supposed to confess all serious sins committed since my baptism, in August, 1970.  Yet from discussions it was also clear that I wasn't expected to spend hours with Father.

I spent perhaps ten minutes.  After the Eucharist, Confession is the best thing about being a Catholic.  I always go with reluctance and some dread.  I always leave ... well, I will not attempt to say what it means to me, but it is a sad day when, occasionally, I am unable to go to Confession that week.

That Saturday each of us went to first Confession.  The next morning, Sunday the 24th December, was Christmas Eve.

18 January 2014


A Catholic friend on the Internet had advised me to avoid going through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults).  Sue and I and the three of our children who intended to become Catholics were, after all, already Christians.  We were not catechumens.  In traditional Catholic practice, we were Christians who had never been in full communion with the Church - but because we were baptised, we were Christians.  We would, in fact, be received in the The Rite of Reception of Baptized Christians into the full Communion of the Catholic Church.

My friend's reasons, however, were not of this technical nature.  We were well educated in the Christian faith.  We knew the Catholic faith (or thought we did) from personal study.  We ought, my friend said, to be received privately, by discussion with a priest.

This might, after all, have been done.  I was not in favour of being received into the Church that way.

It was clear from talking with Father Jude that he expected us to go through RCIA.  I told my friend that I had spent the first twenty-odd years of my Christian life doing my own thing.  I was determined, in becoming a Catholic, to do what the Church said - even in matters such as this which were not dogmatic.  It was time for me to learn some docility.

RCIA was quite an experience.  I do think that my friend was correct when it came to the question whether RCIA would give us any information about Catholicism that we did not already have.  It did not.  The wonderful Sister Margarita (if I have her name spelt correctly) was the leader of our programme, which began, I think, in August or September, 1995.  We met Sunday evenings, and each of us had a sponsor - a member of the parish who was there to be our friend and guide.  There were two other candidates for entry into the Church - both of them wives of non-practising Catholics.  Both (eventually, in one case) entered the Church; neither, sadly, has persisted in Catholic practice to this day.

The five Jensens were, perhaps, a little bit overwhelming for the rest.  Sue and I were adults, of course.  Helen was virtually so (18).  Eddie (15) and Adele (13) were certainly not shrinking violets.  Jensens talk ... quite a lot.

We were scheduled to be received into the Church on Sunday, 24 December, 1995 - but that depended on the question whether our marriage was valid.  Our marriage was not valid if I was, in fact, still married to Edna.  The marriage tribunal in San Francisco was the court that had to decide.

On Friday 22 December the decision arrived - by Telex.  My first marriage had not been valid (on the grounds of lack of due discretion - a short way of saying I had no real idea of what I was doing).  Sue's and my marriage was valid Christian (sacramental) marriage.  (Our marriage was not yet licit - meaning that it had not been undertaken according to the law of the Church; it was made licit shortly after our reception by a marriage blessing by Father).

Saturday 23 December was a day of retreat - prayer and meditation - and, for each of us, our first general Confession.