Friday, February 13, 2009

"This" Is Why I Believe In The Real Presence

I am incredibly grateful for my education at an evangelical seminary. The nearly continuous faith-challenging questions posed by both faculty and fellow students only strengthened my Roman Catholic convictions. However, one particular objection to a Roman Catholic doctrine, presented by a professor I deeply admired (and still do), affected me quite significantly, and drove me to search diligently for an answer.

The real presence of our Lord in the most holy Eucharist is a unique doctrine of the Roman Catholic faith. When such a truth is challenged, the Catholic feels compelled to defend such skepticism with ferocity. This is how I felt when my professor challenged this doctrine in my first class at the evangelical seminary. His two main arguments (at least presented in class) consisted of one assumption and one critique based on language. The assumption was that no one would have imagined our Lord claiming the bread and wine to be his actual body. Not only does this beg the question, but such a skeptical assessment contains a further assumption that Jesus would have only said things that could be clearly understood by others. From a cursory reading of the Gospels, we see that such an understanding is far from accurate.

The second argument presented by my professor was an argument from language. Jesus likely spoke Aramaic. So a phrase like “This is my body” could not have been said since Aramaic did not use “to be” verbs (e.g. is, was, were, etc.). The inference to this argument is that the Greek writing authors of the Gospels inserted an ‘is’ so as to not go beyond Christ’s own words yet maintaining proper Greek grammar. In other words, the ‘is” in the phrase “This is my body” is a deliberate generic verb which functions simply to fill the lack of a verb from the original Aramaic quotation. Thus, Roman Catholics—according to my professor—have gone beyond the scope of the text with their “transubstantiation” theology.

Despite my profound admiration for this professor, I vehemently disagree with his rather sophisticated argument. While it may be true that Jesus did speak in Aramaic, such an argument is an argument from silence. A more powerful argument comes from a close examination of the Greek texts to see if the author, guided by the Holy Spirit, left any clues to what Jesus might have meant when we said “This [no verb] my body” in Aramaic. When such an examination is done, we find an answer that confirms the validity of our Catholic faith and gives the believer goose-bumps.

Those of you who have studied a language like Spanish know that words can have genders. While both Amigo and Amiga share the same basic structure (the stem), the ‘o’ and ‘a’ at the end of the word give it its gender (the first being masculine and the later being feminine). Greek is very similar in that many words may look nearly identical with only a minor change being due to gender differences. One such example is the demonstrative pronoun (e.g. this/these, that/those). In Greek, you can find the word “this” in feminine, masculine, and even neuter forms. The gender of the pronoun is chosen by what it is referring to (i.e. the antecedent). If Joe asks Sally, “Can you hand me my book?” and Sally responds, “Is this your book?” Sally’s “this” obviously refers to “book.” In Greek, “book” has a gender (feminine) so “this” would also have share the same gender as the word book. Enough with Greek grammar and on to the good stuff!

From Scripture we know that when Jesus picked up the bread from the table and said, “This is my body” the ‘this’ was referring to the bread He was holding up. In Greek, ‘bread’ has a Gender (like all nouns) and it is masculine. Thus, we ought to conclude that the ‘this’ that Jesus speaks is also masculine in gender since it is referring to the bread. But wait, it is not masculine at all but rather neuter in gender. Have all three Gospels committed a grammatical blunder? By no means! If only we had the eyes to see (Greek in this case) the reason why all Last Supper accounts record such a grammatical faux pas. We already mentioned that the Greek word ‘bread’ is masculine but we have not yet made explicit what the other critical noun’s gender is, and that would be ‘body’ which is neuter!

Tying all the loose ends together, we must ask why all the Gospel writers took the liberty to make Christ’s “this” in the phrase “This is my body” neuter in gender when it is clear that the ‘this’ is referring to the masculine in gender bread which he is holding up to his apostles. The answer is quite clear to the Catholic. By the time our Lord and savior raised the sacred bread from the table, the bread had changed into the body (and blood) of our Lord Jesus Christ, which the grammatical gender-change from masculine to neuter conveys! The bread is no longer simply bread but now has taken on the grammatical gender of the body which communicates to the reader the breads substantial change into the body of our Lord! The Gospel writers, guided by the Holy Spirit, could not have been any more explicit regarding the Real Presence of our Lord in the bread and wine consecrated by our faithful priests! Thus, the ‘is’ in Christ’s phrase “This is my body” is not some verb to be disputed, but rather a powerful lens into the Real Presence of our Lord in the Holy Eucharist.

Saying all of this, it would be unfair of me to ignore the common non-Catholic objection to this “demonstrative” argument which favors a Real Presence understanding of the Last Supper passages. Due to the intricate and complexity of this rebuttal, I will only deal with its most “deadly blow” to what I have just argued above. For those wanting a more exhaustive treatment of the non-Catholic perspective, I refer you to Robert Sungenis’s article.

It is true that there are a small number of passages that share the grammatical structure of the Last Supper passages. Both Matthew 13.38 and Luke 8.14 contain a demonstrative pronoun followed by a ‘to be’ verb and ending with a noun or noun equivalent. While the pronoun ought to be taking on the gender of its antecedent, it actually takes on the gender of the substantive following the verb. In the case of Mt. 13.38, the ‘these’ in “these good seeds” takes on the gender of “kingdom” rather than “seeds.” The non-Catholic claims victory in that this appears to be a clear attestation that such a grammatical usage does in fact point to a metaphor.

However, on closer inspection the weight of this objection collapses (along with every other similar example by the non-Catholic interlocutor). Both Mt. 13.38 and Lk. 8.14 are explanations of parables by Jesus which had just been presented. The actual metaphoric usage was in the parable. Jesus is NOT explaining a metaphor (i.e. the parable) with another metaphor. We must make the distinction between metaphor and assigning identities. Coming from a computer science background, I find the best way to explain this is through the lens of mathematics. If I were to create a program based upon an algorithm, I would have two (at the minimum) separate locations of code. One would contain the actual algorithm. The algorithm section of my code would be equivalent to the metaphoric structure of Christ’s parable. I would also have a separate location whereby I would be assigning identities to all the appropriate variables. These are not simply representative variables, but they actually take on that which it symbolizes. The assignments actually imbue the variable to the fullest extent. Thus, we have the clear distinction between metaphor and the assignment of identities.

In light of what I just said, it makes all the more sense why these additional exceptions simply prove the rule. Since both Mt. 13.38 and Lk. 8.14 (and many more like these) are assigning identities, it makes sense why the demonstrative pronoun would take on the gender that follows rather than its antecedent. This grammatical rarity is conveying the message that the subsequent noun is taking on the identity of the pronoun! Again, it is good to be Catholic!

Next time you are at Mass and you hear your parish priest say the words of consecration, “This is my body” I hope you will have a greater appreciation for such a simple word as “this”, and have a deeper love for the Son of God who stands before you in the Holy Eucharist! May God be Praised!

Friday, February 6, 2009

On Being Unevenly Yoked and Hurting Others

Many of you may know that I teach a Theology of the Body class on Monday evenings in the upper room of the Catholic Student Center. This teaching position has served as a kind of catapult into relationship counseling that I honestly had not anticipated but thoroughly enjoy. I’m fully aware that I am not a licensed counselor so I quickly refer those students needing licensed attention to more qualified professionals. However, many students come into my office wanting basic advice on their current relationship, and I am happy to listen and offer an “outside” perspective if they so desire. After only six months of one-on-ones with students I have begun to see a couple common threads that unite relationships deemed “unhealthy” or “complicated” by the students in them. The first common thread may be expressed as the complication of being unevenly yoked (cf. 2 Cor. 6.14-16), and the second thread revolves around an exaggerated fear of “hurting the other.” I would like to address the unevenly yoked complication first.

I began dating a non-Catholic girl during my first year of seminary at an evangelical college. While the relationship was great in a number of ways, it also was very difficult as we obviously did not see eye-to-eye regarding each other’s beliefs. My awakening to the gravity of this disagreement came from my father. Speaking to him one day about my relationship he said, “Son, marriage is a difficult vocation as it is. If you see your relationship worth the additional level of difficulty due to your conflicting beliefs then go for it. However, just remember that this will in fact be an additional cross to bear.” From that moment on I took a very different approach to courtship. I knew that my Catholic faith was the center of my life, and I deemed it necessary that I find someone who shared that intense love for the Catholic Church that I had.

St. Paul calls each of us to a similar discernment as we approach relationships (cf. 2 Cor. 6:14-16). A positive way to express St. Paul’s desire for us not to be unevenly yoked is to say that we ought to strive to find someone who shares the same spiritual foundation we have. While it is important to find someone whom we enjoy and have fun with, such a reality may fair poorly in times of trial when unsupported by a firmer and deeper common faith. I want to be clear that I am not saying that unevenly yoked relationships are doomed to failure, but rather that such relationships offer unique hardships that evenly yoked ones do not.

St. Paul offers us a reason for this warning that I find quite profound, and ironically the reason is presented in his brief treatment of celibacy. In 1 Cor. 7:32-38, the apostle expresses his concern for those who choose the married life. The chief concern is that those who marry may have increased anxiety over the fact that they must split their time between God and family. The celibate person, on the other hand, has the opportunity to live a deeper “inner integrity” since he (or she) does not have to live dividedly. This is why St. Paul appeals to the goodness of celibacy over marriage. He does so NOT because he believes marriage is bad, but because he personally sees a temptation in marriage to become divided in heart. Ultimately, Paul leaves it up to the individual to discern their proper gift from God whether that be the vocation of marriage or celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom.

If it is true that marriage lends itself to the danger of a “divided heart” then we must do what we can to prevent such an occasion of pain. I have encountered many relationships both married and unmarried alike who suffer from wounds caused by this divided heart. Often times, one or both feel as if they have compromised their own integrity so as to keep peace in the relationship. Unfortunately, such actions can lead to spite and regret which further hurts the relationship. However, if we seek another who shares our same Catholic foundation, we quickly bridge the gap between God and the spouse, offering the opportunity for a marriage that nearly shares the great inner integrity inherent to celibacy. I recognize that this column does not address those who have already married into such a relationship stated above. Unfortunately, such a topic must be saved for a later time.

The second common thread deals with the phrase I hear from students “stuck” in an unhealthy relationship. When pressed why they continue the relationship, they often say, “I can’t break up with him/her because I don’t want to hurt him/her.” I have to admit that I have often said the exact same thing. I have come to suspect that behind the altruistic phrase is actually a sense of profound guilt. Upon further inquiry I have discovered that nearly everyone who had shared such a sentiment also had been living a physical relationship beyond that of their own personal convictions about the relationship. In other words, their bodies were writing checks their person was not willing to cash. Behind the altruistic desire not to hurt the other in the relationship was a deep seated guilt based on the truth that they had been expressing ideas through their body (sexually) that they themselves were not ready to commit to personally. Breaking up with the other would only reveal the duplicity presented between their personal and physical commitment. This is what I have commonly seen behind the whole exaggerated emphasis on the fear of hurting the other.

Of course, there are those who simply have a healthy fear of hurting the other that increases to paralyzing implications. To those who struggle with this fear, I offer a powerful quote from none other than C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable...The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of and perturbations of love is Hell” (The Four Loves).

The remedy to both these contemporary difficulties among students is quite simple. If we are convicted to the heart about our Catholic faith, we ought to strive to find someone who is also deeply convicted to the heart about their Catholic faith. In so doing, we create an atmosphere of external integration. Furthermore, if we desire a healthy relationship that is free from exaggerated fears then let us work to love more purely, to love in such way that our bodies speak the same language as our person. In so doing, we create an atmosphere of internal integration. May we all strive to live more authentic and integrated lives for we can do all things in Christ! May God be Praised!

The Rise Against Intellectual Apathy

I had the privilege of participating in a Cathedral Mass a few weeks back, the celebrant was Archbishop Charles Chaput. The Sunday happened to be Epiphany Sunday when we celebrate the coming of the Magi to the foot of Christ’s crib (cf. Mt. 2.1-23). If you have ever had the opportunity to attend a Sunday evening Mass at the Cathedral, then you know that a homily by his Excellency is something you simply do not want to miss. I can say confidently that I would take notes if it wasn’t for my pride persuading me that people would deem me as one of “those” who wears a Holy pocket-protector! While much of what he said on Epiphany Sunday has been forgotten, there is one piece of his homily that has stuck with me to this day and that I find particular pertinent to our upcoming debate on campus.

Like any good homilist, Archbishop began his homily by painting the historical and sociological landscape on which this event of the Magi occurred. Unfortunately, such an accurate portrayal necessitated a significant correction in popular thinking. When we think of the Magi, phrases such as “the three kings,” or the “the three wise men” often come to mind. Such conceptions are nearly entirely wrong or at least a gross exaggeration of the original words. Whether there were three of them, or whether they were “wise” is completely absent from the original text. In addition, evidence for their kingship is about as strong as evidence for their queenship! What we can learn from the text is that these Magi were magicians which was something considered deplorable to Jews and Christians to this day. In other words, they were genuine pagans.

A light may have flickered for those of you reading this. There is an irony to be said, a perplexing puzzle to be solved. We see in this narrative an unexplainable interest by a number of pagan magicians in a rather obscure Jewish prophecy, all the while a near silence befalls Jerusalem for whom this prophecy has been fulfilled. In other words, there is a greater expressed interest in the covenantal God of Israel by pagans than those who claim to be Jewish believers! It is in this rather perplexing inverse of prophetic interest that the Archbishop provides an acute observation in its application.

The archbishop has keenly observed that at times there appears to be more non-believers interested in God today than believers! I actually have a tough time saying those words as they are difficult to stomach. Putting the archbishop’s observations to the test, I did a little research project. With the debate only days away I did a couple google searches. The first search I committed to was to see what results I could obtain in support of Hitchens (the Atheist coming to our debate) in light of this particular debate. I immediately received a rather large number of blogs and other websites talking about this “great opportunity” with many atheists making plans to carpool with one another. With hopeful expectations I then searched for results that would include those people in support of D’Souza (the Christian) in this particular debate. Excluding those sites originating through our own publicity, the results came back with……..ZERO. Sadly, it appears that the archbishop has been proven correct.

I wish I could say that my experience as the Director of Outreach and Evangelization could help curb these disappointing results, but they do not. FOCUS has been doing some incredible work getting the word out on campus about the debate. After a day of success in the distribution of tickets, a missionary made a casual comment about how she felt that “nearly 60 percent” of tickets she distributed were to atheists. In light of the overall population of atheists in Boulder, that is quite a skewed statistic.

I say all this not to be a dirge, but rather to act as a call to arms! We live for a reality that is deeply personal but it is NOT private. We have a public commitment to our faith which must be imbued with both good and beauty, but it also must be grounded in absolute Truth! We are not ashamed of the Gospel because it is the power of God for everyone who places themselves in that love who is Jesus Christ (cf. Rom. 1.16). We have no need to fear the truth of our faith for it stands unabated with or without us, but we are called by St. Peter to give a reason for why we believe to those who inquire about it (cf. 1 Ptr. 3.15). We have many opportunities to satisfy this call to take arms which Hilary spoke of in last week’s column. May we continue to deepen our love for God with all our mind (cf. Mt. 22.37), and may we find such pursuits personally enriching and fruitful. May God Be Praised!