Sunday, October 5, 2008

Catholicism and the Holiness of God

Long ago, I was blessed to take a class at a Presbyterian church who at one point, had R.C. Sproul on staff. Dr. Sproul is a brilliant theologian, and gave one of the most powerful teachings I had ever heard on the holiness of God. By the time I was finished with the class, I was in awe that God hadn't completely obliterated the human race. (Since then, I've become aware of Dr. Sproul's position on the Reformation, Calvinism, and his criticism of the Roman Catholic church. In spite of theological differences, I still like his teaching on this particular subject.)

I know there are non-Catholic churches that have focused on the holiness of God during their services. However, their services aren't quite built to hold such meditation. A typical non-Catholic church service has about 15 minutes of worship music and 30-45 minutes worth of a teaching. Some churches who celebrate communion or the occasional baptism will fit those within the two basic components. But the recognition of God's holiness either comes as a result of a lengthy worship time or a specific teaching from the pastor, reminding the congregation of this truth.

I have begun to believe that the Catholic Church is the only church that consistently promotes a place to cultivate meditating upon God's holiness. The Mass is built for such an awesome endeavor. It takes quiet reflection to ponder God's absolute and supreme character and an environment that is conducive for this type of exercise. People getting up to get some coffee, muffled conversations from those around you, and humorous sermons does not create the environment needed to honor and surrender to God Almighty.

There is such an enormity to God. He is so much "other" than we could ever hope to comprehend. His love is expansive, eternal, and overwhelming when viewed through the prism of the Cross. His mercy is deep, causing us to shed tears of joy when we understand the depth of our sinfulness. His judgement is fierce, and like a hungry fire, purges us of our rationalization and shallow justifications. And His chastisement is always filled with a desire to draw us closer to Him.

I was waiting for the day when I would really feel a conviction regarding my mortal soul. It came today as I attended Mass with my father. There was an awareness that during the Mass, I was on holy ground and what that meant for my thoughts, my deeds, my words, my actions, my attitudes, my opinions. We listened to the parable of the Unforgiving Servant and I was struck by a realization that I'd never had before. As many times as I had heard this parable, (and understanding it was talking about us as believers) I realized the servant, who had just been forgiven an impossible debt, was still trying to save himself.

The price for our sin has been paid by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is a debt we never, ever could have paid. Like the servant, we were forgiven and released from this debt. But the servant was still focused on trying to repay his debt by his own will. I think this was why he throttled the poor guy who owed him 100 denarii. He figured if he could get at least 100 denari, he'd be able to go back to the king and give him something. It would seem that he could not forgive a man for owing him 100 denarii, even if that money didn't even come close to helping him repay his own astronomical debt.

The seriousness of that unforgiving heart was seen from the response of the king. The unforgiving servant was promptly thrown in jail until he could repay what he owed. The lesson is that we are to forgive from our heart and understand that whatever someone owes, it will never exceed what we truly owe our heavenly Father.

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