December 2, 2007

Mike Potemra of National Review Online’s Corner Blog has a fine post about Pope Benedict XVI’s latest encyclical, this one on the hope and promise of eternal life through Jesus Christ. The focus of Potemra’s post is on the meaning of eternal life and the role the doctrine of Purgatory plays in, for lack of a better term, “getting us there”. What is particularly striking to me about Benedict’s encyclical, however, is his putting the sacrament of Baptism into its right and proper place in the theology, faith, and life of the Church – something very much needed these days, where all you hear in the mainline Protestant churches is the moanings and groanings of homosexuals and transgenders calling for “full inclusion”. In Benedict’s view, there is no higher place in the Church than the baptized, for he writes:

I would like to begin with the classical form of the dialogue with which the rite of Baptism expressed the reception of an infant into the community of believers and the infant’s rebirth in Christ. First of all the priest asked what name the parents had chosen for the child, and then he continued with the question: “What do you ask of the Church?” Answer: “Faith”. “And what does faith give you?” “Eternal life”. According to this dialogue, the parents were seeking access to the faith for their child, communion with believers, because they saw in faith the key to “eternal life”. Today as in the past, this is what being baptized, becoming Christians, is all about: it is not just an act of socialization within the community, not simply a welcome into the Church. The parents expect more for the one to be baptized: they expect that faith, which includes the corporeal nature of the Church and her sacraments, will give life to their child—eternal life.

This is what makes the “full inclusion” crowd and their incessant and juvenile bleatings so tiresome and loathsome to me. To them, the only sacrament of the Church that means anything to them is Ordination. And why is that, you might ask? So they can get the “keys to the kingdom” and lead the Church to a “deeper place of understanding” (the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church’s favorite phrase) where they can feel GOOD! about themselves, their sexual orientation and preferences, and their life choices. You see, eternal life means nothing to them – it is only this life that’s important. Which just goes to show you just how theologically and intellectually (some might add morally) bankrupt, clueless, and misguided they are. If they weren’t, they’d understand what Benedict XVI is saying – that is, that true “full inclusion” (and the ONLY kind of inclusion that really matters in the grand scheme of things) results from Baptism. With no message of hope beyond this life and their own tawdry agendas to proclaim, is it any wonder people are leaving the mainline Protestant churches in droves?

But I digress. Potemra is struck by the universal nature of Benedict’s writing on the nature of Purgatory, and here you’ll see a lot of mainline Protestant’s eyes rolling heavenward, but they needn’t be. As he points out, Purgatory has gotten a bad rap as a result of the corruption of the medieval Church with its Jesse-Jackson like shakedowns in the way of indulgences for loved ones seeking to gain eternal life for those who have passed on. But there’s nothing phony about Purgatory – how we get from our present imperfect state to the perfect state of eternal life requires some form of purgation (all in God’s time, of course), and the doctrine of Purgatory helps put that into words.

And that’s why Benedict’s encyclical is so important, for it speaks a universal message of hope to the masses – to a world where the only real promise and hope lie in faith of God’s love and mercy. As Potemra alludes, Benedict’s encyclical is a thoughtful, reasoned, and refreshing change to so much of the nonsense going on these days in the mainline Protestant churches. For once, a Christian church leader is asking us to think of our faith and our lives in the long term and the eternal, getting back to the basics of what faith, hope, baptism, sacrifice mean, and how all of these relate to life in Christ and our individual lives as Christians in this veil of tears we call life. Potemra summarizes his post this way:

I don’t have a view on whether or not there’s a Purgatory; I guess we’ll all find out soon enough. But Benedict XVI’s Christ-centered understanding of his own Church’s doctrine on the subject offers powerful material for reflection. Catholics—and everybody else concerned with man’s ultimate destiny—should be grateful for the presence of this fine thinker on the world stage.

Indeed. I just wish there were more solid thinkers like him amongst the leadership of the mainline Protestant churches in general, and the Episcopal Church in particular. More and more I find myself realizing that Roman Catholicism, even with its own struggles and imperfections (both past and present), is the thinking man’s religion.

Filed in: Religion & Culture by The Great White Shank at 01:00 | Comments (0)
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