Tag Archives: roman catholicism

Bishop Robert Barron at the Graves of Tolkien and Lewis

Happy Reformation Day!…. which is a not-so-subtle reminder that I am not a Roman Catholic.

But I have a great appreciation for so many of my Roman Catholic friends, and particularly an admiration for a number of great Roman Catholic thinkers. Bishop Robert Barron is one name that comes to mind.

Father Barron has dialogued with the Canadian “Intellectual Dark Web” phenomenal figure and psychologist Jordan Peterson, as well as with Protestant evangelical apologist, William Lane Craig. Even as a “son of the Reformation,” I personally get an education from one of the most articulate and winsome Roman Catholic minds, whenever I heard Father Barron speak. Recently, Father Barron participated in England, as part of the beautification ceremony of John Henry Newman, the 19th century Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic apologist, perhaps the greatest Roman Catholic mind of the 19th century.

While in England, Father Barron stopped to visit the graves of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Below are two short, 3-minute videos that give you a flavor of Father Richard Barron. Finally, I included a clip of Father Barron’s Word on Fire episode, discussing the canonization of John Henry Newman, from Rome, with St. Peter’s in the background. I recall many fond memories from my trip to Rome, almost exactly a year ago. For those who appreciate “The Great Tradition,” that folks like Lewis articulated so well, enjoy:

Even though more people convert from Roman Catholicism to Evangelical Protestantism, a surprising number of Evangelical Protestants move in the opposite direction, and “cross the Tiber,” so to speak, and join the communion in Rome. This can be quite puzzling for some.

If Roman Catholicism is like a “black box” to you, and you really do not understand much about it, you might want to investigate some of the videos put out by Ascension Presents. Father Michael Schmitz is a very gifted, dynamic, young priest and communicator, who knows how to explain the intricacies of Roman Catholic doctrine, to younger audiences. As opposed to Father Richard Barron, who can be academic at times, Father Michael Schmitz is very good at making Roman Catholic teaching accessible, to just about anyone. You may not be convinced about purgatory, but perhaps you will understand a little bit better what purgatory is all about.


Our Lady of Kibeho

From William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho

Are apparitions of Mary real? What do they signify?

When I viewed a recent College of William and Mary theatrical production of Our Lady of Kibeho, written by Katori Hall, I pondered these questions. Based on a true story, in 1981, there were reports of at least three girls in a Rwandan Catholic school, who all claimed to have received visitations from the Virgin Mary. At first, these visions were positive in character, emphasizing the love of God. But soon, the visions turned dark, depicting a future time when the land of Rwanda would become killing fields, overwhelmed with violence. The visions were warning the people to repent. Initial skepticism of these visions eventually gave way to fear.

Thirteen years later, in 1994, Rwanda descended into mass genocide, where somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Tutsi’s were murdered by Hutu tribes people, which was soon followed by reprisals and civil war. The 2004 film, Hotel Rwanda, tells the story of these atrocities. Some say that the visitations of Our Lady of Kibeho were prophetic warnings that predicted this immense human tragedy. In 2001, a local Roman Catholic bishop deemed these Marian apparitions to be authentic.

Immaculée Ilibagiza, whose family was killed during the genocide, survived this ordeal, hiding in a pastor’s bathroom, along with several other women, for weeks. Ilibagiza was a speaker at the Bill Hybel’s Global Leadership Summit, that our church, Williamsburg Community Chapel, satellite hosted, this past summer. Ilibagiza, herself a Roman Catholic, travels the world, sharing her story, the challenge of forgiveness, and the story of the Catholic school girls involved with the Our Lady of Kibeho visitations.

As a Protestant evangelical, affirming the principle of sola scriptura, I have my doubts about the authenticity of visitations by the Virgin Mary. I see nothing in the Bible that would lead us to expect the Mother of Jesus to make visionary appearances to Christians in our day and age. To claim such apparitions to be authentic must somehow account for that fact that there are no such visitations to Protestant Christians, at least to my knowledge.

Nevertheless, these African girls did see something. I know that some Protestant Christians might think of these extraordinary experiences as being something demonic, but given the message of the visitations, a more moderate and positive view makes more sense. The call to the Rwandan people to repent of their racism was prophetic, and entirely consistent with the teaching of the Scriptures.  It is sadly horrible to think that so many people of Rwanda, many who called themselves Christians, were unable to hear and obey that call to repentance.

But such a warning should not be limited to Rwandans.  Jeremiah 17:9 points to the problem that all humans have, and not just the Rwandans involved in perpetrating the genocide: “The heart is deceitful above all things,and desperately sick; who can understand it?” I may not be able to fully explain the claims of the Marian apparitions, but I can affirm the teaching of the Scriptures that calls sinful humanity to repentance.

William and Mary’s production of Our Lady of Kibeho was an A+, in my view. If you ever have the opportunity to see Our Lady of Kibeho, you should do so, even considering the fact that the subject matter is indeed disturbing. The following two videos flesh out some of the stories I highlight here, first a three-minute interview with the William and Mary actors, explaining why the story of Our Lady of Kibeho needs to be told, followed by a twelve-minute CBS interview with Immaculée Ilibagiza.

 


Vatican II, Embracement, and Pope Francis: Roman Catholicism Today

Martin Luther, a “heretic” or “a witness to the Gospel?” How has the Roman Catholic communion changed in 500 years? (credit: Finland stamp from 1967, from a ETWN web page)

I need some help from my Roman Catholic friends. It is difficult to figure out exactly what is going on in Rome today.

An Italian evangelical leader, Leonardo De Chirico, gave a very thoughtful 30-minute message at a recent Ligonier Conference, in this year of remembering the 500th anniversary of the start of the Protestant Reformation. In the video below, Chirico argues that in order to understand Roman Catholicism today, we need to have in mind three concepts/names:

  • Vatican II: The 16th century Council of Trent codified for hundreds of years what has been traditionally understood to be Roman Catholicism, the high water mark for the Catholic Counter-Reformation, a formulation of doctrine that sought to refute many of the reforms of Martin Luther and other Protestants. The next major council, Vatican I, set much of Roman Catholicism against the changing modern world of the 19th century, affirming the work of the Council of Trent, and reinforcing traditional boundaries. But the early 1960s, Vatican II council changed all of that. However, Vatican II did so, not by altering the doctrine of the church, but rather, by changing the tone and attitudes towards those outside of the Roman communion.
  • Embracement: Vatican II set the wheels in motion, whereby this change of tone and attitude has characterized the trajectory of the Roman church for the past fifty-plus years. Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict put the brakes on much of this Vatican II trajectory, embodying the doctrinal commitments that have traditionally defined Rome. Still, incremental changes in smaller ways, in terms of a warmer spirit of embracement and inclusiveness of others, made their way into the church. But the doctrine remained effectively the same.
  • Pope Francis: Now however, unlike his recent predecessors, Francis has downplayed the doctrine and turned up the warmth of this new spirit of embracement. Arguably, Francis is the first truly “Vatican II”-like Pope. In the past four years since his ascendancy, Francis has hinted at or suggested various reforms in the church, some that point towards reconciliation with other parties in the universal Christian community (like Protestants and Eastern Orthodox), some that thrill liberals and others outside of  the church, and some that horrify Catholic conservatives.

What are we to make of all of this?

Briefly stated, on the one hand, Roman Catholicism has never been a monolithic movement, even during the era of the Council of Trent. On the other hand, Protestants can easily misrepresent what Roman Catholics believe and think, and that does harm to efforts to try to heal the divisions of the last 500 years. That being said, here are two things that come to mind as examples of what puzzles me, as to what is coming out of Rome in the Pope Francis era:

  • A generation ago, those Catholics who experienced the tragedy of divorce, were conscience-bound to go through the process of securing an annulment for improper Catholic marriages. Nowadays, fewer divorced Catholics even bother with the annulment proceedings. Also, according to authoritative Catholic tradition, regular confession is a required sacrament of the Catholic Church, and yet, I know many Catholic friends who rarely, if ever, go to confession. What are we to make of all of this?

Leonardo De Chirico offers some insights from a Reformed Protestant perspective. I can imagine that many traditional Catholics might be terribly dismayed by all of the changes. Can any of my Roman Catholic friends help me out here? Are Chirico’s observations correct?

Ligonier Ministries, associated with Bible teacher R. C. Sproul, has some great resources, particularly for those with interest in the theology of the Protestant Reformation. In this year, the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, Ligonier sponsored their annual conference, with the theme of the Reformation, and you can even view all of the videos of the conference on YouTube.

 


Lectio Divina: Spiritual Formation #3

Imagination. Is there such a thing as a godly imagination in the life of a believer in Christ?

Lectio divina: An ancient spiritual discipline of “divine reading” of Holy Scripture that is being revived among evangelicals today. Yet some Christians fear that such practices could be dangerous.

Over the course of my spiritual journey, I have often had trouble reading the Bible. Not only do I find some things difficult to understand from what the text is saying, I also have struggled with something closer to home. Does God still speak through the Bible to people today? Am I trying to read the Bible merely to gain information, or am I reading it to try to meet with God in a personal relationship?

It has been said that the ultimate objective of reading Scripture is not simply to know the Word of God. Instead, it is to get to know the God of the Word, to move beyond the Sacred Page to have an encounter with the supreme Author of the text.

Yet for some Christians, there is a danger associated with moving beyond the Sacred Page. There is a temptation, critics argue, even for Christians to view the reading of Scripture as some sort of talisman, a type of magic book where merely reading the words of the text will somehow subconsciously restore our soul. The imagination of the reader can easily get caught up in inventing one’s own private, personal interpretation, thereby introducing confusion between understanding our own thoughts and wishes and desires with God’s supreme and objective revelation that calls us to face reality.

The critics are right to have their concerns. I have sat through innumerable Bible studies where people have brought forward a cacophony of opinions of “what the Bible says and means to me.” I even have known people who simply opened up to some random page of the Bible, put their finger somewhere into the page, and then read that verse believing that God might speak to them through that verse. I remember opening up my Bible once to Genesis 41:46. There I read that “Joseph served in Pharoah’s court.” As I was struggling with my tennis game at the time, I could have easily mistaken the words of Scripture as God’s way of coaching me on my backhand, but I sincerely doubt that this would have been the proper use of Scripture!

These are some of the issues that we can encounter when we think about spiritual formation, particularly in terms of developing spiritual disciplines focusing around Scripture. One of the classic spiritual disciplines in this area is something called lectio divina. Some might even call lectio divina … dangerous…
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