Monday, January 29, 2007

Lord of the Dance

Dancing is not one of my fortes. Even though I sometimes take recklessly to the dance floor, I’m about as graceful as a guillotine spinning out of control. Forget the rhythm of the beat, we’re talking about taking evasive action whenever I gyrate to a tune. But some people just know how to move around their partners.

It’s true that the best dancers are always instinctive, they’re not self-conscious when they surrender themselves to the beat of the music, which lifts them, carries them and fills them with sweetness. They don’t dance with their minds, they dance with their hearts. They never try too hard; they don’t think through their steps, they merely allow themselves to enjoy the moment.

In the same way, I suppose marriage is very much like a dance. Drawn by a mutual melody and attraction for each other, our hearts beat to a common song that only we can hear. Step-by-step, we begin to move, swirl, spin and express the contours of our love with fervour and passion. And like planets orbiting around each other, we feel the gravity of our attraction, pulling us closer as the music becomes more familiar and the song more personal. With practice our steps become coordinated, our movements instinctive, and in time, a couple becomes one body in the rhythm of the music. Well, at least that’s how it is for some.

The rest of us tiptoe with as much grace as an elephant in a tutu, and I for one continue to put people’s eyes out with my flailing limbs. Needless to say, I’m uncomfortably awkward with knowing what to do, how to move and when to move. And the same is often true in my relationship with God.

If our spiritual life is a dance with God, how do we see ourselves progressing? From experience we know that the dance of life is not always slow and melodic, not always coordinated to our moods. Sometimes it’s fast and passionate, other times it can be violently energetic, often it’s spontaneous and unpredictable. And perhaps like me you sometimes feel intimidated by the complicated steps and rhythm, or find yourself lost in the complex beat of the music.

Do we move with perfect timing and grace? Do we remember the steps and music? Do we drag our soles, stumble over steps and stomp clumsily on his divine feet mostly?

It doesn’t matter. As long as we choose God as our dance partner, we shall always be in tune, even when we have two left feet. Why? Because when we dance with God, he always leads. All we have to do is follow his rhythm. Don’t think too hard about what steps to take, where to move and when to twirl. Trust your divine partner. Just hold on and let yourself be carried in love. The more you dance, the more you will become one.

That’s what happens when you tango with the real Lord of the dance. Everything else is pure magic. So dance with faith, dance with trust, and dance with joy. But whatever you do, don’t be afraid to dance with God.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

St. Josemaria Escriva 3

Over the years, I've heard so many unkind things about St. Josemaria and his oft-contested canonisation. I'm just glad I decided to watch, listen, study, pray and decide for myself instead of listening to these rumors. I hope you will too.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Thinking with the Church

To add on to my last entry on Conscience, I would like to share an excerpt from this book by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus; called “Catholic Matters –Confusion, controversy and the splendor of truth”.

“Dissent from official teachings – typically from teachings that do not sit well with the surrounding culture, and most typically from teachings touching on sexuality – is taken to be a mark of having grown up. The disposition is this: “Yes, I am a Catholic but I think for myself.” The somewhat implausible assumption is that what one thinks up by oneself is more interesting than what the Church teaches.

It’s true that, as the sixteenth-century St. Ignatius of Loyola put it, we should think with the Church (sentire cum ecclesia). It is also true that thinking with the Church begins with thinking. Faithful assent is not a matter of standing to attention, clicking one’s heels, and saluting at the appearance of every document from Rome. Rather, it is a matter of thinking for myself so that I can think with the Church, the prior assumption being that the Church possesses a teaching charism and authority that warrants my assent. I think for myself not to come up with my own teaching but to make the Church’s teaching my own. That is not always easy to do. People say they have difficulty with one teaching or another. That is not necessarily a problem. The problem arises when we assume that the problem is with the teaching and not with ourselves. The great nineteenth-century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman said, “Ten thousand difficulties do not add up to a doubt.”

“Catholic Matters” can presently be purchased at Borders (That’s where I got my copy); and no, I don’t get any commission for recommending this, unless you count the spiritual kind.

In good conscience and in bad

Many Christians, including Catholics think that faithful assent to the Church’s doctrinal teachings is akin to an absolute surrender of reason and will. Post-modernism has bred such an emphasis on self that every man, woman and child always knows better than the collective wisdom of the Church.

Even clergy and religious sometimes hide their contempt for certain Church teachings by dressing their disobedience under the excuse of what they call “faithful dissent”.

In other words, “I disagree and disobey but I’m nevertheless a faithful Catholic because I choose to think for myself, and I think the Church is wrong on this subject so in obedience to a greater truth (usually mine), I must dissent.”

First off, there is nothing wrong with thinking for yourself. Faith and reason are not in battle with each other in the Catholic faith. Indeed, they co-exist in a perfect marriage where one complements the other. After all, God gave us the spirit to believe but he also gave us a mind to understand what we believe, and we are to use both. But in a world of shifting principles and democratic consciences, any claims to eternal or absolute truths can certainly upset anyone who has been weaned on contemporary ideas of personal choice and freedom.

For many, morality is not indisputable but adaptable. Truth is not eternal but relative, and “conscience” is just another word for exercising my right to decide for myself, rather than the imprint of the eternal God who infused our souls with that natural gift of sensing what we know by nature to be right or wrong, good or evil. Where that instinctive knowledge has been suppressed, dulled or ignored for too long, then a false sense of moral principles fed on the ideologies of the world and the appetites of the ego replaces the true conscience as the fulcrum of a person’s code of conduct and thinking.

G.K. Chesterton put it well when he said, "When people stop believing in something, they'll start believing in anything." A conscience in reality is a spiritual muscle. The more you exercise it, the stronger it becomes and the more sensitive to good and evil it is. The less you use it or worse, try to suppress it; it will eventually be reduced to a state of spiritual muscular dystrophy. How then can it support a moral life?

God has given us tremendous attributes in this life, each of which is a tool designed by the creator to serve and help us when used as intended. Naturally when we use something in a way other than it was designed for, we risk not only ineffectiveness but also a real danger to life and limb. A can-opener does a great job of slicing open our canned dinner but it is hardly an appropriate tool for trimming your nails unless you have extra fingers to spare.

Think of your conscience and reason as a car. It can get you places and bring you to your eternal destination, but only if you drive it whilst being mindful of the rules that govern the highways of life. However, if you do all kinds of modifications to your car, or worse, you let it fall apart and then choose to ignore safety signs on the road, then you put yourself and others at risk because you become a danger to everyone else driving on that highway. When that happens, your “Aston Martin” is more likely to serve as a flaming coffin that propels you to certain death rather than the reliable means for bringing you home. After all, being placed behind the wheels can be intoxicating to anyone who doesn’t temper such power with humility and faith.

What’s more, we should recognize that since Genesis, there exists a voice that has sought to offer us an alternative code of morality to the one God envisioned for His children. He didn't tell Adam & Eve to do away with a conscience, he was much too sly for that. Instead, he convinced them that they had the sole power to know for themselves what was right or wrong.

“Eat of the fruit of the tree”, he said, then you shall know the difference between good and evil and you shall be like God. With this ultimate lie, this wretched creature convinced our first parents that “God doesn't want you to eat from the tree of knowledge because He knows that you will become like Him; you will become powerful and self-sufficient and will have no need of Him. That is why He hides that power from you, so that you may never know or enjoy that ability". Sadly it was this temptation to be our own Gods, to be subservient to no one, to be answerable to no master but the high altars of our own egos that plunged the world into darkness and rebellion.

Today, Satan continues to say to us, "You don't need the Church to point out what is good and evil. You have the power to decide this for yourself! The Church wants to keep you oppressed because she knows that you won't need her when you can decide on your own. You can be your own Church, your own Pope, and your own Gospel. It is only fools and old unthinking masses that bow their heads to the Church and her high-handed hypocrisy and thus live lives of utter sadness and oppression."

Why do you suppose popular culture and Hollywood constantly depict Catholics as ignorant, superstitious, pathetic and sometimes cruel, but always as tortured souls suffering great misery? Yet anyone who lives a genuine Catholic life will tell you that it’s a life resplendent with joy and grace.

Still, it’s no secret that the world identifies Catholicism as the bastion of oppression and injustice. To be a Catholic is to be robbed of original thought and reason; to be denied the freedom to do whatever you want, to express yourself in anyway that you feel comfortable. It's the "I gotta be me" mentality described by the late Archbishop Fulton Sheen.

The Catholic idea of freedom however is not quite the same thing. It is the freedom to choose wisely, to act responsibly and to be delivered from whatever addictions and sinfulness that can chain an individual and blind him to the right choices in life. The fact is, freedom as a gift is not an end in itself, nor is it the pathway to self-gratification.

Is the man who is free to indulge in drugs, adultery, fornication, pornography, homosexuality or excessive drinking truly free, when every such opportunity saps him of his strength to say "no" and rise above his wanton desires? Of course not. Rather, true freedom liberates us to be authentic witnesses in this world to the reality of God and truth. And one cannot do this when one is imprisoned in a thousand ways through false ideals, lifestyles and choices.

Now and then we are told that to make a financial killing, we need to listen to the advice of our brokers. To get a sharper nose, we gladly acquiesce to plastic surgeons. To have more prosperity, we obediently seek out geomancers and fortune-tellers, but to live rightly and justly for our happiness, we are outraged that the Church's teaching office or Magisterium should presume to tell us how to live our lives - they who receive their commission "to feed my sheep" from Christ Himself.

Tragically some things just don't change. Maybe that’s why Satan has such a field day convincing generations of men to follow in the footsteps of their first parents.

A conscience, despite being a natural gift from God, still needs to be formed and cultivated. This is where religion comes in. A man with a badly formed conscience will not be able to rise to the occasion under attack. Besides, how can we truthfully say "each man according to his own conscience" when some have such poorly formed ones as to appear to have none?

Hence to preserve and protect us, Christ our Lord gave us more than a conscience, He gave us the Church to preserve and form that conscience in order that through the Holy Spirit, we might be delivered from the idolatry of self-worship.

Truth is immutable and unchangeable. We are not the benchmarks of morality in our own lives. Christ is - The same Christ yesterday, today and tomorrow. The same Christ who commissioned one Church in particular to speak for Him definitively.

That might explain why the Catholic Church is so reviled as an icon of moral steadfastness in societies that expound an ideology of convenience and gratification. At the same time, she is often admired for her unwavering courage by people disillusioned with the transient solutions offered by society today. Her defense of traditional teachings in the face of trends, political correctness and popular theologies, effectively sets her as a thorn in the sides of people who recognize the seeds of truth in her words, regardless of how much they might insist on drowning that out.

Remember that the Church has never taught her doctrines and moral ethics because they were popular or even practical! She teaches them and maintains that she has no right to alter them for one reason alone - She is convinced that it expresses the will and intention of Christ Jesus her Lord and King, in whom her only duty is to obey and adore. That is why Jesus warned His disciples that the world will hate them as it hated Him, it will reject them as it rejected Him, and like her Master, the Church will be "a sign of contradiction" to the world, just as the Cross continues to be a sign of contradiction to the world.

Anyone who prides himself on being more progressive, forward-thinking and obviously more "enlightened" than a 2000 year old Church without even seriously investigating its doctrinal stands with some degree of honesty does a great deal of disservice both to the Church and to himself. And it is not uncommon for many in this day and age who are hungry for truth to be seduced by new fads, theologies and spiritual appeals that more often than not, distill Christian truths in their claims to shed more light.

Unfortunately, many (including priests and religious) who are most prejudiced against orthodox Catholicism, sadly also do not allow themselves to seriously study anything from conservative or traditional Catholic sources before condemning them. Instead, armed with what little knowledge they derive from some dissident source of literature, they feel comfortable abandoning two millenniums of magisterial teaching, saints, martyrs, doctors and the infallible promise of Jesus without bothering to weigh the arguments for the Catholic position seriously.

If this was an operation on a life and every doctor jumped at a new, fancy, popular treatment without objectively weighing these claims against proven medical histories and knowledge, they'll end up killing hundreds. In spite of that, many Church leaders, pastors and theologians feel they have to constantly reinvent Catholic theology by challenging the Church's heritage with hostility that borders on the insane. Instead of claiming to speak for Catholic truth, at the very most they can only present these novel ideas as their own.

Yet it is this crazed hunger for something new, something different, something exotic that dominates so much of their theological wrangling that they lead the faithful into a chasm of mistrust and confusion about the Church's teachings, often times just for the sake of seeming revolutionary. At best, they merely succeed at reinventing the wheel. At worst, they promote heresy and confusion among the faithful.

This is not to suggest however that Catholic Theology can bear no dialogue, that to raise doubts is to risk being struck by a bolt of lightning. That is not what we are saying.

The theology of the Church is made more manifest and clear through the contributions of great Catholic minds who delve into divine mysteries in a genuine effort to understand and articulate these truths. In order to grow, there must be courage to explore, to ask questions and to try new ways of thinking, but always and everywhere, this must be done in the context of Catholic understanding and tradition as far as divine revelation is concerned.

This is the backdrop. This is where we must return in our quest for a more authentic Catholic identity, even if our thoughts explore and stretch the boundaries of divine science; because in the end, theologians cannot be said to be expounding Catholic theology if what they teach contradicts and attacks the essence and nature of the Catholic faith - just as you cannot genuinely claim to be Catholic if your life bears no resemblance to authentic sacramental living within the Catholic Church. It is the duty and function of theology to question, think and study the truths in divine revelation in order to bring out their clarity and light, not to change and alter these truths into something entirely alien, or to invent a new revelation so to speak.

Author and apologist, Scott Hahn once commented that to agree with what the Church teaches is not faith, it is coincidence. You have a set of beliefs that you subscribe to. And coincidentally, the Catholic Church has an identical set of beliefs. Faith is when you encounter a teaching that is difficult, but you recognize the spiritual authority and wisdom of the Church and you bow your head in obedience, knowing that where your human efforts end, the Holy Spirit supplements with a wisdom and love that never fails.

The truth is, agreeing with Jesus has never been the condition for accepting His teaching. For His Apostles, His words were all that was necessary. They believed because He said it was so.

In the Gospel of John, many of Jesus' disciples abandoned Him because they could not accept His teaching that they would have to eat His Body and drink His Blood. No one could fault them for appealing to logic; it just did not make sense. However, instead of explaining Himself, Our Blessed Lord turned to Peter and the eleven and asked them, "What about you, will you leave also?"

Faith succeeds where human knowledge fails. It was Peter who responded despite not understanding, "You have the words of eternal life Lord, to whom shall we go?" John 6:68

Some people may be tempted to interpret this as implying that we should blindly accept all that the Church teaches. On the contrary, there is nothing in Catholic teaching that goes against the grain of reason. God didn’t just give us a heart to love Him; He also gave us intelligence to know Him and a mind to understand His will. Faith is not incompatible with reason, and it’s a tribute to the wisdom of the Catholic Church that she recognizes both as complementing each other in the life of a believer.

Therefore, do not be discouraged when questions arise. Many times, the Apostles themselves could not understand the Lord's teachings, at least not until the Holy Spirit came upon them and opened their minds to the mysteries of His Revelations. Very often, these episodes of clarity occurred much later in their history when they had grown more mature as Christians. So the next time you come across a difficult Catholic teaching, don’t be too hasty to pronounce judgement until you’ve heard all the evidence.

Read, study, question and research! You’ll be surprised at the wealth of Catholic resources available to those who want to know their faith better. You owe it to yourself to seek and discover the truth, instead of quietly assuming that the Church is erroneous in her moral claims. The least we can do in such a dilemma is to honestly try and understand the Church's position for ourselves, instead of relying on prejudicial hearsay.

Above all, pray! Let us sincerely ask the Lord for illumination. Because like Peter, we can also say to the Catholic Church, the true Bride of Christ, our Mother, "You have the words of eternal life, to whom shall we go?"

St. Josemaria Escriva 2

Humour and holiness goes hand in hand.

St. Josemaria Escriva 1

The genius of the saints is that they fill old truths with new enthusiasm

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Through him, with him and in him

“Everything old is new again”. From fashion accessories to vintage inspired cars and movie remakes, nostalgia seems to have a talent for reawakening our senses. Just last week, I stumbled upon my old cache of comic books from over thirty years ago and found myself transported back to a time of unrestrained pleasure. My favourite superheroes leapt from the dusty pages of my childhood like they were printed only yesterday. And suddenly, time stood still for a delightful moment.

I had the same feeling of inexplicable joy watching some children at play the other day. Somehow when I think about heaven, my thoughts often travel back to the innocence and pure joy of my childhood. I imagine there are others who feel the same.

St. Augustine reminds us that “God is younger than all else”. He remains forever young, younger than all of us who have grown old because hope expresses his eternal youth. For this reason the gospel is old and yet ever new, because Jesus himself is eternally relevant to our hearts.

Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. No amount of time will diminish his relevance to our lives, because human nature itself remains unchanged throughout history. We suffer the same temptations, pine for the same basic desires, and struggle with the same sins over and over again. We will always need our saviour, but like an easily distracted child, we forget the good counsel and warnings of Jesus at the first sign of pleasure.

Most of all, we forget our Christian dignity in Christ.

So many of us go through our days like paupers because we disregard our royal vocation as sons and daughters of God. It shows in the way we behave, talk, entertain and make choices. We wallow in the spiritual amnesia of princes who live by the castle gates begging for crumbs instead of taking our rightful places in the royal courts of our King and Father.

Over time, we become strangers to our own divine heritage, believing instead that we are little more than beasts and beggars. And so believing, we live and act like animals.

Dear friends, this must stop. As you read this, make a choice to reclaim your princely character in Christ. To help us do that, allow me to share some reflections on what it means to be a child of God.

As Catholic Christians we receive so much from our Lord and saviour, but we’re also such forgetful disciples. As a result, we never truly unleash the power of grace that Christ died to give us on Calvary.

A Spanish friend laughingly confessed how he sometimes queued at the long foreign immigration lines when he returned from overseas missions, only to realize a few moments later that as a Singapore permanent resident, he could’ve easily passed through the local passport counters without any delay. In the same way, many of us spend our entire lives waiting in the wrong lane.

Do we really understand our awesome dignity as co-heirs of Jesus Christ? As Christians we use this phrase so loosely that it sometimes takes on an almost “Barney” or “Sesame Street” triviality when we talk about being children of God. But the apostle Peter reminds us that we are a “chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” set apart. This is truly something special.

We forget that through our baptism, we are born again into a new and vibrant supernatural life; a life that even now gives us a foretaste of the supreme happiness that awaits us in eternity.

Everyday our God descends from the highest heavens to share the Eucharistic meal with us, just as a father gathers to break bread with his children at the family table, and everyday he gives his own lifeblood for the nourishment and health of his sons and daughters.

It’s no coincidence that the pelican is often used as an image of the Eucharistic Lord, since this curious bird is often known to peck at its own breast for morsels of flesh and blood to feed its young in a famine. Such is the self-sacrificing love of our Father and God.

We’re often told that through Christ, we have been adopted into the family of God. But we’re much more than that! God the Father doesn’t just adopt us, he makes us truly his own by giving us His only begotten Son Jesus to be our brother and redeemer, so that through the blood of our saviour we are born again into a new reality.

In a very mysterious way, we are truly children of the Most High. We know of many people who chase after worldly titles of nobility in order to rise in the eyes of their fellow men. But what can be more noble and dignified than being a child of God? What worldly obligations of membership are more sacred and privileged than the paramount vows of our baptism?

Do we truly realize the power, dignity and authority within ourselves as Catholic Christians?

At every Holy Communion, the Body and Blood of Christ flow through our veins. His life, his DNA, his power and breath are given to us for our divine inheritance. As such, our mortal blood carries the life of the immortal; our lives on earth bear the imprint of the resurrection. Through Him, with Him and in Him, we inherit the majesty and power of the eternal Son of God. All that is needed is the faith to unleash a life that can change the world.

Think about it. From Adam & Eve we received our human and mortal bloodline, but from Jesus and Mary, we have been reborn in baptism and the Eucharist as a new race.

When Christ redeemed us, he gave birth to us as it were by giving us a royal bloodline in himself. In taking upon himself our humanity, he sanctified our nature and shared with us his divinity. And since Christ received his human nature entirely from Mary, we too bear her blood and DNA when we receive Our Lord in the Eucharist. After all, it was her blood, her flesh and her bones that gave human form to the Son of God. Consequently, Mary isn’t just our spiritual mother, she is our corporal mother as well. Reflect on this the next time you read the dying words of our Lord on the cross; “Behold your mother.”

As a result, every Catholic isn’t just bonded in a fraternity of faith and creed with each other; we are bonded and related through the blood of Christ, making us truly siblings with one another. And our baptism must set us apart from the world we live in.

If there is no difference in the way pagans and Christians live, then what is the point of our witness? Instead, the saints tell us that we can change the world if we live holy and faithful lives, sanctifying our days and offering our most mundane and ordinary tasks with the greatest love and hope because as children of God, what we do and how we live can affect the cosmic battle between good and evil.

Christ in redeeming us calls us to be co-redeemers of the times we live in, and indeed, to save our societies and our families from the terror, injustice and afflictions that define the world today.

This seems like an impossible challenge but the solution is really quite simple. We can turn the tide against terrorism, abortions, broken marriages, poverty and corruption and all the darkness of our times, by simply being faithful to our Christian vocations.

We must learn to look at our lives through the veil of eternity. What we do as Christians have supernatural effects that influence the world we live in. Behind the ordinary drama of our human history is a larger landscape of spiritual realities. And as Christians we have the power to make a real difference, even if what we do seems trivial and modest.

Mother Teresa spoke of this when she urged everyone to “do small things with great love”, because love multiplies everything. And when we offer it to our Lord as a prayer and oblation, we join our humble efforts to the great redemption of Christ for the world. This is the great battle cry against Satan; that the humble, ordinary struggles of a Christian life hold the power and means of sanctity to defeat him.

This is why St John Bosco exhorted his boys to simply be good boys, why St John the Baptist told soldiers and tax collectors to be honest in their work, why St. Josemaria Escriva encouraged Christians to do their professional work with holiness and fidelity, and why the Church continually exhorts us to be faithful to our daily struggles to love God and neighbour. Our prayer, our sacrifices, our sufferings and patience with all that life brings can be offered up to God with much love and hope for the salvation of the world. This is the great secret of our Christian solidarity; that through Christ we can intercede with God for one another.

After all as Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said, if it is possible for doctors to transfuse blood from a healthy person to save a dying man, why is it not possible to transfuse suffering? If surgeons can graft healthy skin from one part of the body to restore goodness in another, why is it not possible to graft sacrifice and prayer? Small things done with great love and fidelity to God can shake the very foundation of the world.

Is this some new doctrine? No. There is nothing new in what the saints tell us. The genius of the saints lies in the way they imbue old truths with new enthusiasm. But the fact is, every individual action is magnified by the dignity of the person doing it, and the actions of Christians for better or worse are supernaturally magnified by their supreme dignity as children of God.

I’m sure you recall the old adage: “Evil succeeds where good men do nothing”. In the same way, darkness will reign where Christians forget their real dignity in Christ. We are the sons and daughters of the new Adam and Eve. If Dan Brown and other conspiracy writers really wanted to trace the bloodline of Jesus, they merely have to look into the face of every Catholic Christian. Therefore, we should live well and love well since we hold in our lives the power to win the world for God.

Remember this and it will help you live your Christian dignity as a prince and not as a pauper.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Who's making assumptions?

A Christian friend insists that Catholic doctrines like the Assumption of Mary were invented by superstitious popes.

Well the pope is not a magician who pulls dogmas out of his hat like some parlour trick designed to fool the ignorant.

Sometimes, the reason we don’t see something is because we’re looking in the wrong place. Other times, preconceptions and prejudices can blind us to the scriptural evidence exposed before us.

Police investigations often require the help of forensic science to uncover truths that are hidden beneath the ordinary. Likewise, divine truths must be unveiled through the lens of Christian tradition and understanding. What the bible doesn’t disclose immediately to the casual reader can nevertheless be full of evidence that reveal themselves only after the clues have been pieced together.

As the prophet Elijah discovered, God’s voice is loudest in its silence. It wasn’t in the violent thunder of earthquakes and fires rattling mountains that Elijah heard the voice of God, but in the almost indiscernible whisper of a breeze.

In the same way, if we scour the bible looking for colourful neon signs that point to this doctrine with a big pulsating arrow that says, ‘Look, here are the words, “assumption of Mary”’, then we shall risk the blindness of the Scribes and Pharisees who saw their King before them in the dusty sandals of a carpenter and recognised Him not, just because He didn’t fit the image of the King they were so used to conceiving.

But before we’re ready to plumb the depths of Holy Scripture for answers to this question, it might help to differentiate between the words “dogma” and “doctrine” which can be utterly confusing to many people.

“Dogma” is just a fancy theological word for what Christians accept to be apostolic teaching from the earliest days of the Church; namely a timeless and eternal truth as it were. It is understood by Catholics to be part of the original deposit of faith as handed down by the Apostles. To explain it simply, it is not a new teaching but rather an old teaching with apostolic roots and foundation.

A doctrine on the other hand is the articulation of a dogma to make it more accessible for common understanding. Consequently when the Church teaches a doctrine, she is in fact explaining the divine mysteries behind a dogma.

At this point, it is important to understand that the pope cannot proclaim a "new" dogma. In fact, no one can. Dogmas have always existed within the original revelations of Christ, even though the precise teaching and articulation of this revelation is constantly made clearer for generations through the illumination of the Holy Spirit who guides the universal teaching office of the Church.

Imagine for instance a perfect diamond lying in the shadow of a tree. Even in the half-light of the sun, it shines resplendent for all to see and admire. However, as the day progresses and light washes over its surface, the diamond sparkles with greater clarity and magnificence as it transmits the powerful rays of the sun to our eyes. In this case, matter itself is not changed; the diamond remains the same as it was before. The only difference being that the progression of time has brought more light to the nature of the gem, giving it more brilliance and illumination.

Similarly, the progression of time and development of doctrine gives the Church more precise understanding and clarity in order to better articulate and strengthen an existing belief.

Therefore, the “Assumption of Mary” like all dogmas of the Church must be understood in the context of this ancient and apostolic tradition. We should understand that it is not a new dogma that Pope Pius XII "invented" when he proclaimed it back in 1950, but rather an ancient and widely accepted belief of the early Church that His Holiness merely reiterated for later generations as bearing apostolic truth.

The Assumption of Mary is probably the oldest feast of Our Lady. After all, there is a very ancient tradition in Christianity that teaches that because of her exalted position as Mother of the Redeemer, Mary enjoys the reward of the bodily assumption with Jesus. This is testified to by the practice of the early Christians in Jerusalem who began celebrating her passing or “falling asleep” as far back as the 4th century.

In a culture that guarded the relics and remains of Christian personalities jealously, it was highly peculiar that no relics of Mary were ever reported to exist. In fact, all agreed that the presence of an empty tomb near the site of her death suggested that her remains were not left on earth, which led no less a personage than the Patriarch of Jerusalem to remark at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, that “Mary had died in the presence of the apostles; but her tomb, when opened later . . . was found empty and so the apostles concluded that the body was taken up into heaven.”

In other words, early Christians have always believed that there were at least two human bodies in heaven - Jesus and Mary - glorified as they are in the mystery of the resurrection. If a bible fundamentalist is scandalised by that thought, the following argument might help calm his gasping breath.

First, scripture records at least two other people who might also have enjoyed bodily assumption; one of whom was Elijah who was taken up in a fiery chariot at the end of his life, disappearing before the very eyes of his disciple Elisha. The other is mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Hebrews: “It was because of his faith that Enoch was taken up and did not have to experience death: He was not to be found because God had taken him. This was because before his assumption it is attested that he had pleased God. Now it is impossible to please God without faith, since anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and rewards those who try to find him.” (Hebrews 11: 5-6)

Clearly it would seem that Paul at least believed that the prophet Enoch was assumed into heaven for having lived a life of grace and obedience. And since Paul himself was a former Pharisee, he must've been recalling a Jewish tradition widely held throughout Judea, especially since he was writing to Jewish converts to Christianity. So even in scripture we discover precedence for this unusual gift. When it came to Elijah and Enoch, Paul and the Jews certainly believed in the theological concept of the Assumption.

Now if such were the rewards given to prophets, we must ask ourselves: “How much more applicable is this to the Mother of the Redeemer - she who was full of grace and the handmaid of the Lord?”

Mary above all pleased God more perfectly than any disciple did or ever can. Hence if we can accept that God’s prophets enjoyed such a privilege, why should we object to the Mother of God deserving even more? Why indeed should Christians be scandalised by the blessing shown to this humble woman who not only loved Christ intimately as only a mother can, but who faithfully stood by her divine son to the very end?

Many cynics find it difficult to accept that God could possibly show such great love and respect for a creature by exalting her as the paradigm of all human perfection; raising her before every man, woman, child and angel by making her His mother, His queen, His spouse and the mother of His Church.

Instead too many people cling to worldly ideals of human respect; which is often nothing more than the cry of a familiar serpent coiled around a tree who once whispered to another woman, “Take and eat, and you will be like God”.

True womanhood can only find its real meaning and genuine beauty in the light of Mary’s womanhood, intended by God and exalted above all creation to reflect His glorious wisdom. Just as true manhood can only find its expression in the person of Christ the man, who though God, placed himself at the succour and guidance of this little lady from Nazareth.

Did not scripture reveal that every person righteous in Christ is also a child of Mary, since Revelation 12 vs. 17-18 in describing how the Dragon in trying to devour the Woman’s first-born, also made war against all those who were marked with the sign of the lamb and who believed in Jesus, for these too were among her children?

Yes, it's true that many Protestant Christians traditionally interpret the symbol of the “woman” as pertaining to the church, but the Early Apostolic Fathers have always maintained this to be a reference to Mary.

Bishop Theoteknos of Livias (c.550-650) preached centuries ago that: "Christ took His immaculate flesh from the immaculate flesh of Mary, and if He had prepared a place in heaven for the Apostles, how much more for His mother; if Enoch had been translated and Elijah had gone to heaven, how much more Mary, who like the moon in the midst of the stars shines forth and excels among the prophets and Apostles? For even though her God-bearing body tasted death, it did not undergo corruption, but was preserved incorrupt and undefiled and taken up into heaven with its pure and spotless soul."

These scriptural and historical hints alone give us much to ponder about. But these are only the beginning. For those who persist in their quest for truth, there is an even more impressive trail of evidence supporting it.

The Assumption isn’t a reward reserved exclusively to Our Blessed Mother alone. In fact, this glorious assumption is promised to all faithful disciples at the final resurrection. This too is our inheritance and our privilege. Our bodies will likewise be taken up on the last day and be gloriously transformed in the new life of Christ.

What Mary enjoys now in the bodily assumption must be understood and celebrated as the first fruit of Christ’s resurrection; a fulfillment of the promise made to all of God’s children as an inheritance, but given much sooner to His Mother owing to her dignity as Queen of Heaven.

Now it is not at all presumptuous to infer this. After all, if her Son is King, surely she is Queen.

Many Christians are often surprised to discover that in ancient Israel, it was not the wife of the King who was crowned and acknowledged as Queen. Instead, it was the mother of the King who was more commonly exalted upon a throne and given a place in the government of his kingdom.

If this was true for Solomon the son of David - “Bathsheba therefore went to king Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. The king rose up to meet her, and bowed himself to her, and sat down on his throne, and caused a throne to be set for the king's mother; and she sat on his right hand” (1 Kings 2:19), it is true for Jesus the true King of Israel who descended from the line of David.

Just as Solomon exalted and honoured his mother as Queen of his kingdom, so too Jesus exalted His mother and honoured Her as Queen of His Eternal Kingdom. Remember that one of the basic Judeo commandments beholden of a son is to honour father and mother. That is inscribed in the Ten Commandments, which was the spiritual backbone of the Mosaic Law. And in Christ’s own words, Our Lord came not to condemn the law but to fulfill the law.

Thus in order to fulfill this commandment to honour His father, Jesus had to glorify His Heavenly Father. But as a faithful Jew, Our Lord was also bound in conscience to do the same for His earthly mother, and who would deny that Jesus was a good son if not the best?

If Solomon the wise; a mere man in the shadow of God’s wisdom, could sense that it was right to glorify God by honouring his mother as Queen, can we not give Jesus the Messianic King more credit? Even Adonijah in scripture, (knowing the son’s love and reverence for his mother), had the good sense to implore the intercession of Bathsheba with King Solomon “for he will not say no to you” (1 Kings 2: 17)

As if this wasn’t enough to convince us, let us also remember that Jesus can claim no human heritage other than the same DNA structure that genetically describes Mary. To put it bluntly, He has no body, blood nor bones apart from His mother's. In fact, He owes His human existence to her. How then can one be separated from the other?

Which brings us to the next point in this discussion - the wonderful link between the dogma of “The Assumption of Mary” and the dogma of “The Immaculate Conception”. In fact, understanding one helps us to understand the other. (By the way, the Immaculate Conception refers to the doctrine that Mary was conceived without original sin and not the virgin birth of Jesus, as some mistakenly believe).

In many ancient cultures and societies, your bloodline was a matter of reprove or nobility in some parts of the world. As such, can you imagine the theological implications if Mary was born in original sin like the rest of us; a slave to Satan so to speak?

By genetic association, if Mary was not spared of original sin, then Jesus obviously would have inherited the spiritual marks of that deformity in His human character. In effect, the Son of God would be tainted with the sin of slavery from the first moment of His conception, which would have allowed Satan to eternally mock the redemptive mission of Christ by alluding to His less than royal heritage. Needless to say, how can he who was not free and innocent of guilt himself offer freedom or pardon to others in chains?

Thankfully, the opposite is true. Because Mary was indeed preserved from all stain of original sin, Jesus is thus described in scripture as being "like us in all things except sin."

If the Ark of the Covenant was made out of gold and precious metals to signify the purity and awesome status of the tabernacle that housed the Ten Commandments carried by Moses, what more the living, breathing Ark of the New Covenant that conceived, nourished and carried the living Son of God for nine months?

Mary is the new ark, the new tabernacle of grace and the holy of holies.

As children, we cannot choose our parents. We accept whom we’re given. But if you could choose to make your own mother, if you had the power to do just that, would you make her tainted, fallen, a slave to sin or would you make her pure, perfect and glorious? As it happened, Jesus had the power to create His own mother. And how do you think He made her?

Does this mean that she had no need of a saviour since she was conceived without sin? Christian fundamentalists are quick to point out that Mary herself alluded to God as her saviour in the Magnificat prayer, meaning that she too needed to be saved from sin like the rest of us.

How true! But there are two ways to save someone. One is to save them after they have fallen. The other is more meritorious and perfect, which is to save them before they even fall, preventing even the slightest bit of harm to come to them.

Now which is better? To pull someone out from quicksand after they have fallen in, or to save them from danger in the first place by rescuing them before it happens? Both however require the act of saving, and early Christians have always believed that Mary was saved from sin by her Son before she was even born; when she existed from all time as a perfect thought in His mind, a perfect love in His heart.

Would you not do the same if you could? Likewise, the dogma of The Assumption is based on the same principle.

Death is the tragic result of sin. And because of the original sin of Adam and Eve who stood in the place of humanity, we too bear in our flesh the penalty and mark of their rebellion and return to dust and ashes, whence originally we were made to live immortally with God. Consequently when people say that death is natural, we wonder why so many fear it and the world fights feverishly to prevent or postpone the inevitable. It’s almost as if our instincts recoil in horror against something that our souls deem to be unnatural.

Reading this, one could be forgiven for thinking that because Mary was immaculately conceived, we're implying that she was spared from the sting of mortal death by default. In reality, that’s not the case at all.

A disciple is not above her master and Mary is certainly not above her Lord and saviour, Jesus. If anything, she would not hesitate to share in the burden of atoning for mankind as her divine son did. She above all other creatures would imitate her Lord to the end. And although early Christian traditions tell us that she died a peaceful death, it is not inconceivable to imagine the great spiritual martyrdom she endured in offering her own life with Him and through Him on the cross.

It was not for nothing that the prophet Simeon foretold that a sword would pierce her own heart. The question then isn't so much whether Mary died but whether her sacred remains were allowed to rest in death, and the answer is quite obvious when we appeal to both reason and faith.

Consider that God commanded Moses to honour His symbolic presence by having the Israelites make the ancient Ark of the Covenant out of acacia wood: “And they shall make an ark of acacia-wood: two cubits and a half shall be the length thereof, and a cubit and a half the breadth thereof, and a cubit and a half the height thereof. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, within and without shalt thou overlay it, and shalt make upon it a crown of gold round about.” (Exodus 25 Vs.10-11)

And acacia wood as any decent carpenter will tell you is very resistant to insects and corruption. It doesn’t decay easily.

Now is it possible that God would desire that a wooden box containing some bits of stone and manna not decompose because it contained His symbolic presence, but He would allow the ravages of sin and death to devour the holy body that enclosed His divine Son for nine months and which lovingly succoured Him as a child?

There would be no justice if He did. Even the Book of Revelations when describing the Woman crowned with twelve stars on her head and the moon under her feet used language that described a physical body in heaven. Against this wealth of evidence, it comes as no surprise that the early Church Fathers taught the same.

For instance, St John Damascene living in the 8th century once preached a sermon at the memorial of Mary in Jerusalem with these words, “Although the body was duly buried, it did not remain in the state of death, neither was it dissolved by decay. . . You were transferred to your heavenly home, O Lady, Queen and Mother of God in truth.”

Of course, we expect that some Christians will continue to scrupulously ask for explicit mention of this belief in the bible. Yet scripture itself admits there are facets of our Christian religion that are not clearly expounded in the official texts of the bible, but nevertheless remain part of the oral deposit of faith as handed down by the apostles.

As highlighted in the Gospel of John, Jesus said and did many things that were not recorded simply because the vast number of these details were too numerous to write down, but only enough was written that we may believe in Jesus as the Christ. In other words, the bible IS authoritative but NOT the only authority.

We can't emphasise enough that the legitimacy of the bible is dependent on the authority of the Catholic Church, since it was the Church that organised and compiled the bible into its present form as a spiritual legacy for the world. For this reason, things are in the bible only because the Catholic Church teaches it first. The Church doesn’t teach it only because it can be found in the bible. It is essential for us to understand this historical and objective truth because there are Christians who will not accept anything that they cannot find literally in their bibles.

To stubbornly cling to such fundamentalism would oblige us to reject traditional beliefs like the dogma of the Trinity as well since the word itself cannot be found in scripture and the teaching is only implicitly referenced. Remember that Jesus never explicitly taught the Trinity. It was the Catholic Church through the guidance of the Holy Spirit that imparted the doctrine of the Trinity based on its authoritative understanding of the Lord’s teachings.

In brief, it is always the Bible and the Church that are the pillars and foundations of our faith.

Thus when Pope Pius XII proclaimed the Assumption of Mary in 1950, he was doing nothing more than affirming as official Catholic belief what Christians have always held to be a definitive truth. In fact, the Orthodox and Eastern Churches also continue to teach this doctrine which goes to show how ancient this belief really is, since these Churches separated from Rome way back in the first millennium.

Mary’s Assumption as glorious as it was is nothing less than a shining example of encouragement to all Christians to persevere in faithfulness so that we may share in our mother’s joy one day. And even though some people may still claim that the bible denies this ancient belief, history, tradition, common sense and even scripture itself say otherwise.

Too often, we tell God what He can do and what He can’t instead of thanking Him for what He has done. And what He has done is to raise Mary body and soul into heaven, so that where the Son is, the Mother may be also, alive and glorious in His resurrection.

Tell me, which loving son would not do the same?