Sabrina Lively shares how the last half of her current 40-day water fast is going in the midst of the vocation of being a busy mom and wife.
Matthew Leonard and I share about a renewed understanding of fasting when observed through the lens of Catholicism via voluntary penance and redemptive suffering. The son of a Protestant pastor, Matthew served as a missionary in Latin America previous to his conversion to Catholicism in 1998.
After entering the Church, he obtained a Master’s degree in Theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville and is now is the Executive Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology (http://bit.ly/nD86jb) and you can follow Matthew on Twitter @MattSLeonard.
There is a golden key! His name is Jesus Christ. We can’t do it. And He can. We must be very clear about those two truths. The main reason it hasn’t happened is that we do not fully believe both those two truths.
Christ Himself is the most powerful source of reunion in the world because it comes not from the world but from Heaven. And He will have His way with us sooner or later, one way or another. We don’t know whether it’s going to be sooner or later, and we don’t know if it will come by one way or by another. But we do know that it will come because it is his will. We don’t know when and we don’t know how, but we know who.
Pope John Paul II has voiced the bold hope that as the first thousand years of Christian history were the millennium of Christian unity, and the second thousand years were the millennium of Christian disunity, 1054, 1517, and the over twenty-thousand denominations that came from 1517, so the third thousand years may be the millennium of Christian re-unity, reunification.
But how? The deepest division is obviously between Catholics and Protestants, for the Eastern Orthodox Churches have all remained one, not split into twenty-thousand in creed, code, or cult. They have preserved the fullness of Catholic faith. Except for universal papal authority, but that has changed its form quite a bit throughout Christian history, though not its reality, and it can change again. The pope himself explicitly said that in Ut Unum Sint. But how can Catholics and Protestants achieve reunion? I will prescind entirely from the question whether Anglicans are Catholics, Protestants, both, or neither. Well it cannot be by yielding or weakening or compromising one iota of divinely revealed truth!
All the serious differences between Protestants and Catholics concern how much territory this category of divinely revealed truth covers. For instance, the Church’s doctrines about Mary, and the saints, and the seven Sacraments, and Transubstantiation, and purgatory, Catholics accept them because they believe they are true and divinely revealed. Protestants reject them because they believe they are not true and not divinely revealed. Protestants say Catholics believe too much. Catholics say Protestants believe too little. Protestants say the Church added to Christ’s original, pure and simple revelation in the New Testament. Protestantism is thus Catholicism stripped down: the Catholic Ark with what Protestants claim are the non-scriptural barnacles scraped off of it.
When I was at Calvin College and investigating things Catholic and falling in love with them and feeling guilty about it, because this was the wrong church, I took a course in church history to try to get things clear. And the very first day of the course, the wise-old professor said, “What is the Church?” And we were all just freshman, we didn’t know for nothing so nobody answered. So he said, “Well, you’re going to meet a Roman Catholic someday and he’s going to say, ‘You’re in the wrong church! You’re a Calvinist, you’re in the church John Calvin founded 500 years ago. We’re in the church Jesus Christ founded 2000 years ago.’ What do you say to him?” Nobody had an answer. I said to myself, “I’m in the right class.”
He said, “Well, here’s what the Catholics will say: the church today is a great big thing and it looks very different from the simple thing you read about in the New Testament, but it’s the same just as that oak tree is the same organism as that little acorn. What’s wrong with that picture? The Catholic will say that Luther and Calvin broke off some branches of the church because it was really rotten and they tried to start a new one, but that can’t be done cause there’s only one Jesus. And therefore, only one church. What’s your answer to that? What’s wrong with that picture?” And nobody had an answer. I said to myself, “I’m in the right class!”
And he said, “Well, here’s what’s wrong with that pictures, here’s what happened: Jesus founded one church indeed and it is the church described in the New Testament, and it’s like Noah’s Ark, and it did get rotten, and Luther and Calvin and Knox and others said, ‘Gee, this Ark is sinking! We gotta scrape the barnacles off!’ So they scraped the barnacles off and restored it to its simple, pure, primitive, New Testament essence. So we’re in the right church! It’s the Catholics who are the upstarts. They’re the ones who added all those pagan barnacles.” I said, “Oh that makes me feel good.” I remember asking a question, I said, “Professor, do you mean to tell me that, if my Catholic neighbor and I both found a time machine and went back to the first century,” I still remember his look, “What’s this guy, a weirdo? Science fiction?” “…and worshipped together, that I as a Protestant would feel more at home in that church than he as a Catholic would?” And then he smiled. He said, “That’s exactly what I’m saying.” I said to myself, “Good, that means that I don’t have to be a great theologian to figure out who’s right. All I have to do is read the Church Fathers to prove to myself that they were all Calvinists.” Well, I read the Church Fathers and proved to myself they were all Catholics, so that’s why I’m here.
But the very word “Protestant” means protesting, refusing some of the Catholic whole because they think it’s anti-scriptural and unscriptural barnacles added to what Christ gave us. While the very word “Catholic” means universal, or whole. The whole deal. So this has a problem, apparently without a possible solution because no faithful Catholic could dream of unity with Protestants except on Catholic grounds. For to be a Catholic is to believe that those grounds are holy grounds, divinely revealed. It is the Protestants who must remove their shoes. Catholics cannot negotiate away any of the deposit of faith because it is not theirs, it is Christ’s! The divinely appointed mail carriers may not edit God’s mail.
Why not to a friend, an adviser or a community of people? Psychoanalyst Erich Fromm, who is not Roman Catholic, nevertheless judges that the Catholic Church has “more adequate means” for dealing with a sense of guilt than other religions and institutions (Donald De Marco, “The Decline of Private Guilt and the Need for Confession” pp. 99-106). Here area a few reasons why that may be true:
- The priest charges no fee. He freely received from God the power to declare sins forgiven in Jesus’ name and thus must freely exercise for others that ministry of mercy.
- The priest strictly keeps confidences learned in the reconciliation chapel. Church laws governing what we term “the seal of confession” under severest penalty prohibit a priest from revealing any sin of an individual penitent to any person under any conditions. The long history of this sacrament indicates that priests, despite their human their human weaknesses in other areas, have nevertheless observed those restrictions remarkable well. Confessors take these rules very, very seriously.
- The priest’s wide experience, acquired through regularly hearing many confessions, gives him deep insights into human guilt and divine mercy.
- The priest pronounces with authority and in an audible voice God’s forgiveness of sins:
- “Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” – Rite of Penance
People walk away from the Sacrament of Penance having actually heard these clear and certain words of liberation. They know guilt is gone and sins are removed. Friends, advisers and others can comfort or reassure on this matter, but not announce with such certitude.
- The priest carries out the promises of Christ. After the resurrection, Jesus said to his disciples: “receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained: (John 20:22b-23).
- The priest seeks to mirror in his attitude, words and actions the gentleness of Christ. There are over a dozen incidents in the Gospels which either describe Jesus actually forgiving a repentant sinner or teaching about God’s mercy, which has no limit and lasts forever. The Savior’s example serves as a role model for priests in the sacrament.
- The priest and the penitent actually celebrate a sacrament, the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation. Confession of sins with absolution is more than a merely human ritual that cleanses away unpleasant guilt. As one of the seven sacraments established by Christ, Penance not only forgives sins, but also restores or increases sanctifying grace. Moreover, Reconciliation bestows actual graces that heal the wounds caused by sins and strengthen the virtues needed for our progress.
- The priest in the name of the Church reconciles us with the community. Sin, as we have seen, weakens or ruptures our relationships with God, others and the world around us. In this sacrament, the priest both declares that those fractured relationships have been restored and aids in rebuilding them.
from Rev. Joseph Champlin – “Why go to Confession?”
Over the course of 14 years, my beautiful wife and I have covered much territory and I am blessed to have been all over the world together with her. We have lived in three continents (Europe / Asia / North America), five countries (Russia / Poland / Saudi Arabia / Qatar / USA), seven cities, and 15 apartments/houses.
I began praying for Iwona when I was seven. Even though I did not know her name, I knew God knew who she was and where she was located. I prayed that wherever she was on earth, for God to encounter her, for her protection, for her purity, for her to prophesy over me and for our paths to cross in God’s timing.
In 1991, during an extended fast in Russia, God asked me about the list that I had pertaining to my requirements of a perfect wife.
He said, “Do you want what you think is best or what I think is best?”
I said, “Of course–whatever You think is best!”
He told me to throw away my little list because it would be someone I would never suspect. One month later, Iwona arrived in Moscow to join our ministry staff. At that time, she spoke four languages. English was not one of them.
After a month, I was invited to her 26th birthday party. I observed at the party that Iwona was not eating, so I asked her roommate, Ania, who told me that Iwona was fasting. I asked Ania to interpret for me as I spoke with Iwona. I asked Iwona how long is she fasting and she said, “eighteen days”. I thought 18 days was an odd number and then asked, “Why eighteen days?” She said that there were 18 staff members on our new church plant and that she was focusing each day on a different staff member. I was amazed and provoked!
I asked if she had prayed for me yet. She said she would be praying for me in two days. I asked her to tell me if God gave her anything for me. She kindly agreed. Two days later, there was a knock at my door. Ania handed me a three-page prophecy that she translated for me from Iwona. I closed my door, read it, and then cried for two days. I had never had a prophecy given to me before and this one melted my heart. It was like a love letter from God. I asked God, “Who is this Polish girl?”
He said, “This is the one you have been praying for since you were seven.” At that point, I knew! I would have never guessed a four-year-older, Polish, Catholic girl who didn’t speak English would be my wife-to-be.
With a Polish/Russian/English dictionary, we began to share our dreams, goals, hearts desires, visions and plans with each other. I never met someone who thought so much like me in my life.
After spending 11 days with her, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, after sledding down a huge hill behind our apartment complex, she came right out and told me, “I did not come to Russia to waste my time in a relationship; I came here to win Russians to the Lord, so tell me if this is going somewhere or I do not have time for you.” I gulped. I was not ready to say what God told me, but she threw the ball in my court and I had no choice but to tell her. I then said, “God told me that you are going to be my wife.” She said, “Good, God told me you were going to be my husband.” I said, “Well, so will you marry me?” She said, “Yes.”
We then decided from that moment we would fast again until we each received three confirmations from God that this is His will. Twelve days later we broke the fast and shared with each other the three confirmations we each received.
I called my parents to tell them the good news. They were not to thrilled. Neither was my sending church. It is a long story that I may share at a later date or in our book. I was basically given a decision from my leadership: Leave Iwona and keep my youth group in Moscow or leave Russia and keep Iwona. They gave me a few days to think about it. I told them I did not need a few days; I knew my answer. I told them, “I am keeping Iwona because she is my future.” I was told to leave Russia that very week and that I could not meet with the youth group to explain the reasons why I was leaving.
I had to return to America and Iwona to Poland. I was told that I could not see her for one year to prove that this love was true. I did not see her 15 months, as the test I had to pass.
From that cold Russian New Year’s eve night in Moscow where I proposed to Iwona, it took two and a half years before all was said and done before we were able to get married!
As life has moved us closer together, we now have three beautiful kids, and she is still the woman of my dreams and always will be!