Tuesday, January 16, 2018

We Are Comforted

I am grieving the loss of my friend Deacon Tom Gaudrault who died unexpectedly Sunday morning December 31, 2017.1 I want to express my sorrow over this shocking event by portraying the Tom I knew.

Tom was only 58 years old when he died. For all we knew, he could have lived another thirty years. Yet, his life was cut short by a massive heart attack in his home. After his death we learned that Tom suffered from an autoimmune disorder that apparently triggered his cardiac arrest.

Tom’s motto “Spread the love!” meant spreading the love of Christ wherever he went: at work, at church, and especially in the community. As he modestly conveyed during one of his homilies, even waiting in line for a cup of coffee at a convenience store gave him the opportunity to express the love of Christ. Thus, hundreds of people waited in line some ninety minutes or more to honor Tom at his wake on January 5. Our bond developed over the past two and a half years mostly through short conversations before or after weekend Masses.

I’ve been told that Tom’s relationship with our Lord was awakened at a Cursillo weekend in the early ‘90s. That event also prompted him to become a deacon. I had heard of Cursillo, but I wasn’t aware of its full impact until Tom invited me to experience it during Columbus Day weekend 2015. I would describe that excursion as a boot camp for Christians who want to recover from the effects of our sin-saturated society. Tom’s affable, fun-loving and contagious personality was fully on display as he served as the spiritual director for our group that weekend.

Tom’s training and service as a deacon in the Catholic Church shaped him and continually prompted him to let the light of Christ shine through his attitudes and actions. It’s no exaggeration to say that Tom fulfilled the instructions given to church leaders in 1 Peter 5:2-3:

Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock (NIV).

People in our parish often referred to Tom as the glue that held the parish together. That’s because he listened, reached out, and sometimes smoothed ruffled feathers. He expressed to one person that he felt a special calling to come alongside priests to be an encouragement to them. On two occasions since I have been part of the parish, Tom filled the leadership gap for several months when we were without a permanent priest.

As a Eucharistic Minister, I saw Tom relate lovingly to children, especially the altar servers at the 10:30 Sunday morning Mass. Indeed, he welcomed the young ones who wanted to came to Jesus (Matthew 19:14). He was captivated by their Pick me! Pick me! enthusiasm. Tom was more concerned to include children than to make sure that every part of the Mass flowed flawlessly. I am reminded of that every time I hear the ragged ringing of the sanctus bells.

So, what is our consolation as we mourn the loss of Deacon Tom, especially as we consider that his life and ministry were curtailed? We are comforted when we realize that the timing of Tom’s death was no surprise to our Lᴏʀᴅ whose purposes are beyond comprehension. We are comforted as we contemplate the truth expressed by the poet, “Precious in the sight of the Lᴏʀᴅ is the death of his faithful servants” (Psalm 116:15). And we are comforted in the hope that when the Chief Shepherd appears, Tom will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away (1 Peter 5:4).

May the perpetual light of Christ shine upon you, Deacon Tom!

© Stan Bohall
January 22, 2018

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Take Up and Read, Please!

Like dozens of other books published in 2017, Peter Kreeft’s latest project, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other?, was written to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. One of its key components is Jesus’ claim to be the way and the truth and the life, and his further clarification, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Indeed, Kreeft points out that the way, the truth, and the life correspond to the three deepest human desires: goodness, truth, and beauty.

The way, the truth, and the life are the three things we all need the most and therefore desire the most, deep down. “The way” is goodness; “the truth” is truth; and “the life” is spiritual life, beauty, bliss, and joy. Goodness, truth, and beauty are the three essential foods of the soul.[1]

He goes on to point out that goodness, truth and beauty are the objects of the soul’s three distinctively human powers: the will, the mind, and the heart. They, in turn, correspond to the three dimensions in every religion: code, creed, and cult; or works, words, and worship.

Kreeft makes so much of the triad that it makes sense to consider this book from that perspective. Kreeft’s tone is irenic (goodness); his rhetoric is refreshingly clear and bold (truth); his imagery is delightful (beauty). The strands are so intertwined that it’s difficult and artificial to isolate them. So I’ll point them out along the way.

One of Kreeft’s qualifications for writing this book is that he was a Protestant who became a Catholic. He spent his formative years with his family in the Christian Reformed Church; he received his undergraduate degree at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) and became a Roman Catholic as a young adult. He took his M.A. and PhD at Fordham University, and has taught at Boston College in the Department of Philosophy since 1965.[2] The first of his books that I read was Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (1980), his explication of the argument (for God) from desire, which C. S. Lewis exploited so beautifully in his writing.

Now in his most recent work, Kreeft promotes unity among Catholics and Protestants beginning with his subtitle, What Can We Learn from Each Other? (goodness). His tongue-in-cheek yet perfectly serious kick-in-the-pants approach in the chapter titled “How Not to Think About Reunion” is representative of the whole book. He writes that the biblical evidence for unity “is a solemn, thunder-and-lightning-tinged order from Almighty God.” Thus, he directs us to stop reading his words for a few minutes to encounter the monumental mandate in the Word (Psalm 133:1; John 17:11; Romans 15:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:10-13; 2 Cor. 13:11; Ephesians 3:1-14; Philippians 1:27; 2:2, 54:2 and 1 Peter 3:8; 4:1). “Do it. Actually do it—now, before you read another paragraph. Don’t just think about it—do it. . . . And if you don’t have a Bible, go steal one.”[3]

I was thunderstruck when I read those passages. As a Baptist pastor I thought of a statement like “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” in 1 Peter 3:8 (NIV) as applicable to the relationships within my own congregation rather than to all of God’s people everywhere. Now, living into the Catholic view of the Church, it’s easier to see the grand expectation of unity conveyed by the Holy Spirit not just by Jesus (John 17:11) but also by the Apostles in the New Testament letters.

I truly enjoy Kreeft’s unabashed ability to tell the truth—in stark contrast to our culture's addiction to PC language. Before Catholics and Protestants can experience freedom that comes from unity, we must know the truth (John 8:32). This book is chock-full of blatant truth-telling.

For example, I laughed out loud in surprise and appreciation when Kreeft responded to the question “What Happens in Individuals Who ‘Ecumenize’?”[4] He sets up his answer by pointing out that we won’t merely enter into polite discussions, or merely love each other and listen to each other, or merely pray for each other and with each other, though we should do all of those things. Those who ecumenize discover something big and new: “Catholics discover the fire, and Protestants discover the fireplace.”[5] He explains:

Catholics discover the essence of Evangelical Protestantism; a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Protestants discover the essence of Catholicism; Christ’s own visible, tangible Body, both as a living institution with teaching authority and as a real literal personal presence in the Eucharist.[6]

Kreeft acknowledges that it’s not that these two things are totally missing on either side. “Yet when Catholics and Protestants meet each other on the deep level of religious faith, this is what very often happens, because most Catholics have minimized the fire and most Protestants have minimized the fireplace.”[7] As a Christian with experience in both traditions, I heartily agree!

This “Christian Unity for Dummies” gives three simple and undeniable reasons to work toward unity: Our Lord demands it (John 17:11); the Church teaches it (1 Corinthians 1); and the world needs it. That third reason needs emphasis. Once again Kreeft pulls no punches, pointing out that our civilization is dying. “Its humanistic education, its literacy, its historical memory, its identity, its spirit, its reason for being, its hope, its ultimate end, the very idea that there is such a thing as an “ultimate end”, are all dying.” A fractured Church can hardly heal a splintered civilization.

But this tremendous crisis can be a tremendous opportunity. If we obey Christ’s “great commission” (Mt 18:28) to preach the good news, if we show them Christ, we will save not only souls but also society. When we apply the golden key to the lock, we fill the hole, we bind up the lacerations. We heal.

That phrase “the golden key” is one reminder of the beauty in this book. It’s an image Kreeft uses from time to time; and I’m guessing he has in mind the short Grimm tale by that name[8] as well as the longer fantasy by George MacDonald.[9] The Grimm brothers’ version is a paragraph-long story of a poor boy who has to go out in the cold to fetch wood on a sled. After he finishes, he decides to build a fire because he is so frozen. While clearing the ground, he finds a small golden key and reasons that if there is a key there must also be a lock. So he digs in the ground and finds a little iron chest. He so wants to find the keyhole, for the box must certainly contain valuable things. Finally he spots a tiny hole and tries the key. It fits! Now we must wait until the boy has unlocked the chest and has opened the lid to find out what wonderful things there are in that little box.

The golden key is Christ Himself. “Unsurprisingly, the key to ecumenism is the same ‘golden key’ that is the key to evangelism and, as we will see, to ecclesiology and to hermeneutics—Christ Himself, His real presence.”[10] Saint Augustine is a prime example for Catholics and Protestants, for both groups look to him as a spiritual father. So Kreeft recalls Augustine’s experience found in his Confessions: Before Augustine knew Christ, the scriptures were meaningless; “but then later in his life . . . Christ was present to his soul helping him interpret the book.” What was the key to Augustine’s understanding the scriptures aright? “He tells us: he says he ‘saw one Face’.[11] All of scripture’s doors then opened to him, once he had the golden key.”[12]

When I stumbled onto this treasure in my favorite bookstore I must have felt like the boy who discovered the golden key. As I took up and read snippets of the book I felt the adrenaline rush of joy. My month-long excursion into the hows and whys of Christian unity has been a grand adventure. There’s only one disappointment: It’s too short!

So my wish for my Catholic and Protestant friends is that they too will find this treasure and read it. Then we can discover and discuss its goodness, truth, and beauty—and learn from one another.

© Stan Bohall

[1] Peter Kreeft, Catholics and Protestants: What Can We Learn from Each Other? (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 161.
[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Kreeft. Readers can listen to Kreeft’s account of his conversion at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VO2NGGmWBQo.
[3] kreeft., 26.
[4] Ibid., Chapter 5.
[5] Ibid., 29.
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[10] Kreeft, 148. See also pp. 144, 156, 157, 188.
[11] Augustine, Confessions, bk. 7, chap. 21 trans. F. J. Sheed, rev.ed. (Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett, 1993), 124.
[12] Kreeft, 188.

Monday, December 4, 2017

"To Behold Is To Be Held"

Someone has finally gotten to the heart of Peter’s desire when, on the Mount of Transfiguration, he blurted out: “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (Matthew 17:4; cf. Mark 9:5; Luke 9:33). That someone is Paul D. Scalia, author of the collection of essays titled, That Nothing May Be Lost. In his selection, “His Transfiguration, and Ours,” Scalia writes,

Perhaps Peter’s words are ill-timed. But his response shows how the human heart ought to respond in the light of Christ’s glory: “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence. To behold is to be held.”[1]

Those exclamations, “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence,” remind me of the response uttered by the unicorn Jewel when he arrived in Aslan’s Country in C. S. Lewis’ fantasy novel, The Last Battle: “I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. . . . Come further up, come further in!”[2]

The final scenes in The Last Battle are among the few places where Lewis portrayed the fulfillment of this innate human desire. In reality, Lewis wrote mostly about the anticipation of such glory. For example, in his sermon “The Weight of Glory” Lewis acknowledges,

We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.[3]

As my friend Wayne Martindale points out, “Lewis believed that every desire is at its root a desire for heaven.” Thus, Lewis picked up on King Solomon’s observation in Ecclesiastes (3:11), “that God has put eternity in our hearts,” and on St. Augustine’s assertion, “Our heart is restless, until it repose in thee.” Accordingly, “Nearly all of Lewis’s works . . . have the aim of arousing this desire for heaven or showing us how to live in proper anticipation of our true home.”[4]

Like Peter, we all, at times, are blessed by momentary, fleeting glimpses of glory that Lewis called Joy. In fact, those grace-filled moments played a part in his becoming a Christian.[5] And as a Christian, he put them in perspective.

I believe. . . that the old stab, the old bittersweet, has come to me as often and as sharply since my conversion as at any time of my life whatever. But I now know that the experience, considered as a state of my own mind, had never had the kind of importance I once gave it. It was valuable only as a pointer to something other and outer. While that other was in doubt, the pointer naturally loomed large in my thoughts. When we are lost in the woods the sight of a signpost is a great matter.[6]

Yet like Peter, we want to enshrine our mountain-top experiences, to live in them. But Scalia reminds us that a voice responded to Peter's desire: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5).

Listen to him! Scalia writes that the command should bring to mind, first and foremost, our Lord’s Passion.

The journey up the mountain had followed Jesus’ first prophecy of His Passion: “Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Mt 16:21; cf. Mk 8:31; Lk 9:22).[7]

Peter hadn’t been able to listen to Jesus. He couldn’t comprehend Christ’s suffering and death; nor could he fathom the resurrection. Following Christ to Calvary was unimaginable. Thus, “Peter, who wants so much to remain on the mountain, must first learn the path of the Passion.”[8] Glory is the goal. The road to glory goes by way of  Calvary.

It’s true that Peter’s words were ill-timed. Yet, his response shows that we were created to desire the glory Christ revealed that day. Eventually Peter followed his Savior to the cross, and he came to that place where he would shout for joy: “This is what I have always desired. . . . I was created for this. . . . I want to remain in this presence. To behold is to be held.”

© Stan Bohall, December 4, 2017

[1] Paul D. Scalia, That Nothing May Be Lost (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017), 171.
[2] Clive Staples Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1956), 162.
[3] Clive Staples Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1949), 12-13.
[4] Wayne Martindale, Journey to the Celestial City: Glimpses of Heaven from Great Literary Classics (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 130-131.
[5] See Clive Staples Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1955), vii-viii.
[6] Ibid., 238.
[7] Scalia, 172.
[8] Ibid.