Archives For May 2015

“The Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using [Protestant churches] as means of salvation” (Vatican II).

DSCN4062.JPG

(My photo: a view of St. Paul’s Cathedral, an Anglican church in London)

Around the time when I was first rediscovering God and the Church, Protestants served as a great cloud of witnesses to the sovereignty of Christ. I went to college at Wake Forest, where Protestants made up a solid plurality of the student body. Many of my residents–I was an RA–and many of my co-workers were particularly strong in their faith. They would constantly invite me to Bible studies and to worship services. Though their passion for Christ often times felt a little annoying, I realized that there was something to them, a joy or a peace, that I did not fully have. They were confident in their identities as Christians, and, since I was largely postmodern and existentialist in outlook at the time, that confidence was appealing to me. I wanted something to which I could hold fast, but I also wanted that something to be true.

So, yes, I’ll admit: Protestants were the ones who largely led me back to Christ. Their evident personal relationship with Jesus invited me to consider my own commitment to the Lord. I thought, “Sure, I might be in the right Church, the Catholic Church… But if the essence of Christianity is an encounter with Jesus, then I have a lot to learn from my Protestant brothers and sisters.”

The language of “finding Christ” is becoming increasingly popular in both Catholic circles and Protestant ones. Its popularity is due to its truth, for Christianity is more about a person than about the principles that proceed from that person. It’s simple: no Christ, no doctrine from Christ. Before I can sit at the feet of the teacher and listen to his words, He and I must meet each other. In this way, Pope Francis certainly agrees with evangelicals when he says, “Our faith is an encounter with Jesus. This is the foundation of our faith: I have encountered Jesus, as Saul did” (http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/04/24/pope_francis_our_faith_is_an_encounter_with_jesus/1139230).

Now, if you are anything like I am–that is, if you have a stoic personality–then you will be highly suspicious of subjective language like “finding,” “encountering,” and “meeting” “Jesus.” However, if God opened my heart to such an encounter, then I have no doubt that he can open yours, too. In Christianity, trust is a virtue. Can you accept that truth comes both from trust and from logic, or are you limited to one or the other? Limitations at either of these ends of the spectrum lead to a certain fundamentalism, to a certain staleness, but a healthy dose of the two leads to growth, to the sort of organic tension that ends up expanding both the mind and the heart. Protestants helped me to come to this understanding. I’m better off because of it.

May Jesus, the incarnation of Love and the origin of Truth, be with you always!

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“In recent times more than ever before, [Jesus Christ] has been rousing divided Christians to remorse over their divisions and to a longing for unity” (Vatican II).

11350546_10204276103158915_3678515419752895359_n

(My photo: with a Mormon family in Idaho)

It has now been a week since I’ve returned from my 30-day pilgrimage to Idaho and Utah. The intention of the trip was to engage in dialogue with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (a.k.a. the LDS Church or the Mormons). The last few days have afforded me some time to reflect on my encounters with Mormons, and I feel ready to offer a somewhat coherent–though brief–theological reflection.

However, before I continue, it seems important to address a burning question–are Mormons Christians? The answer is complex, a “yes” and a “no.” If the term Christian means a follower of the figure Jesus of Nazareth, then the answer is surely “yes.” If the term Christian is more narrow and includes adherence to all of the basic doctrines of the Nicene Creed and the other early councils of the Church (the Trinity, God as Creator of the visible and the invisible, etc.), then the answer is “no,” for Mormons do not typically believe that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are one in essence and neither do they believe that God created the invisible laws of the universe. Essentially, no pun intended, Mormons believe that the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are three distinct beings who are united in purpose rather than three distinct persons who are united in being. If this concept sounds a bit complex, that’s because it is. What it boils down to, though, is that Mormons are henotheists and most Christians are monotheists. Henotheists believe in and worship a single God while accepting the existence or possible existence of other deities that may also be worshipped. (Mormons worship only God the Father.) Monotheists acknowledge the existence of one God and the worship of one God. (Hence most Christians worship the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, who are one God.)

The second matter of division–whether God is the creator of the invisible laws of the universe–is even more complex in some ways. Mormons assert that both matter and intelligence are co-eternal with God, but traditional Christians hold that God created everything out of nothing, including matter and the laws of logic and science. In the traditional view, nothing is co-eternal with God, for He is outstanding in His grandeur.

To complicate the subject, the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith, declared that God the Father was not eternally God; rather, God was a human being and became God at some point during the history of time. In a moment of inspiration Joseph Smith preached, “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/1971/04/the-king-follett-sermon?lang=eng). God the Father had his own God the Father, and the regression extends backward infinitely. Ergo, there are many gods, even though humans in our universe are only meant to worship one God: God the Father. Traditionally, most Christians have maintained that the one God is infinite and eternal, and this idea comes from a combination of biblical precedent and philosophy. The prophet Isaiah writes, “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me” (Isaiah 43:10). In the psalms we also find, “From eternity to eternity Thou art God” (Ps. 89:2).

Of course, Mormons will point to some Scriptures in the Bible that seem to imply henotheism (Ps. 97:7; Ps. 89:6–7; Genesis 1:26), but traditional Christians have explained these verses either by acknowledging that the Israelites’ idea of God developed over time, culminating in Isaiah, or that the term “gods” applies in a loose sense to humans who share in the image of God or to angelic beings who also share God’s quality of rational intelligence. After all, the henotheistic verses are not directly addressing the topic of henotheism (they are implied), but the monotheistic verses directly bear on the topic of monotheism. Additionally, the Bible itself uses “gods” and “idols” interchangeably, as in Psalm 96:5: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.”

Despite these differences, I found that Mormons and Catholics agree about most things, and we both attribute our salvation to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. In the spirit of Vatican II, I encourage Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons to work together when possible, to dialogue in kindness, and to make an effort to better understand each other.

May God bless you now and always!

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

P.S.I. I’ve done my best to represent Mormon views as I understand them. I’m certainly open to correction if it turns out that I’ve misunderstood. Additionally, my exegesis of the biblical passages mentioned is not exhaustive. Scholars take a wide range of views on these verses.

P.S.II. Scriptures regarding God’s eternity as God: Ps. 89:2; Jo. 8:58; Ps. 101:27-28

P.S.III. Scriptures regarding God’s immutability (unchanging nature) as God: James 1:17; Ps. 101:27-28; Ps. 32:11; Is. 46:10; Hebrews 6:17; Mal. 3:6; Wisdom 7:24-27

P.S.IV. Scriptures regarding monotheism: Dt. 6:4; Mk. 12:29; 1 Cor. 8:4; Acts 14:14; Acts 17:23; Rom. 3:29; Eph. 4:6; Jer. 16:19; Ps. 95:5; Wis. 13-15

P.S.V. The “henotheistic” Genesis passage (1:26), according to many of the early church fathers, is a reference to the various persons of the Trinity rather than a reference to various gods.

P.S.VI. I received an e-mail from a Mormon theologian regarding my use of “henotheism” and “essence.” Here is his clarification of my writing: I would say…that Mormons are not “henotheists” but, instead, “monolatrists”—as many Biblical scholars posit ancient Israel was. Calling Mormons “henotheists” technically misses the doctrine they espouse. Also, Latter-say Saints believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit share “one essence”—if “essence” is defined in the way the Cappadocian fathers defined it (i.e., as “nature,” not “substance”). 

“So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you…wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God'” (John 6:67-69).

536342_3201843641171_1089440943_n

(The Stained-Glass Windows of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, France–my photo)

In previous posts I’ve mentioned the intellectual reasons why I decided to become a participating member of the Roman Catholic Church. Now, I’d like to tell my story from the perspective of faith.

My parents chose to raise me in the Catholic Church, but we rarely prayed at home. This reality led me to believe that religion was something that people abandoned over time. It seemed to me that once religion had provided the basic tenets of morality, it accomplished its purpose and could be discarded. Nevertheless, I prayed regularly at night, offering my desires up to God and asking Him to hear me.

Throughout high school I mostly continued to go to church and to pray, but other interests occupied the majority of my time: sports, academics, and social life. If I was tired on the weekends, I would skip mass and sleep in. The intensity of my commitment to schoolwork eventually earned me a full scholarship to Wake Forest University, where I would acquire a a double major in Spanish and Religion.

At the start of my time at Wake, many doubts began to enter regarding the faith. I even flirted with agnosticism and atheism during the second semester of my first year while studying abroad in Spain. It occurred to me that religion was comforting and useful but ultimately false. This idea so enchanted me that I began to write a fictional novel about the gullibility of religious believers. All the while, I went to church on occasion out of custom without really believing any of it.

In this state I spent the summer between my freshman and sophomore years in Guatemala, where I carried out a research project on the human rights of women and children. There, I noticed that Catholics took a different approach to their religion. They prayed in their homes, they went to church, and they claimed that they were fighting for justice because of their faith. I had never seen such authenticity!

The seed planted within me while in Guatemala spread its roots during my sophomore year. Figuring that I needed to learn more about Christianity before I summarily accepted or rejected it, I took a class on the Gospel of Matthew. We would cover about a chapter each time we met. Though the class was secular and academic in approach, I began to wonder deep inside whether these things could be true. I thought, “Why would someone have gone through so much trouble to write this stuff down if it weren’t true and if many were persecuted for believing it?” This thought certainly wasn’t proof, but it did start to stir the waters. By the time that we got to the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, I was sold on the idea that, even if Jesus wasn’t God, He was worth following morally. Thus, according to His precepts, I began to sell my things, to give the money to the poor, and to follow Him. Towards the end of the semester, the calling of the Catholic priesthood started to become more of a real possibility for me, as I knew that priests gave their lives to Jesus in a radical way.

All the while, though, I doubted His divinity and trusted in Him as a moral teacher more than as the Son of God. Everything changed during my second summer at college. My friend Hannah and I decided to do the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage from southern France to the alleged tomb of St. James in northwest Spain. The walk would take us about 35 days. Midway through the trip, I went in to speak to a cura in Burgos. I felt that it was time to have a serious conversation about the priesthood. After a brief introduction, he asked me rather directly, “David, do you believe in God?” I said, “Yes, Father, I’ve always believed in God.” He responded, “My Son, if that is your answer, then you don’t believe in God. Consider throughout the rest of your pilgrimage why you believe in God, if you really do…” Wow! I got scared. Did I believe in God? If so, where did my belief come from? By the end of the pilgrimage, I came to understand that my belief in God was a gift from God. Whereas before I’d thought that belief in God was something that I had to produce, now I came to see faith as a precious gift that I simply had to receive in humility.

Over the following semesters God started to affirm my belief in more manifest ways. As I had opened myself up to Him by readying myself in a position of reception, it was easier for me to see the will of God in my life. While studying abroad at the University of Oxford, I met a priest whose holiness astounded me. He so clearly held something of God’s joy. I had good grades, nice friends, and a beautiful girlfriend, yet I still wasn’t happy like this priest was, despite the fact that he was poor and celibate! What made him so fulfilled and left me so unsure? At this point I struck up some conversations with the priest, and he gently led me to the Sacrament of Confession. I went to confess my sins, and, as I did so, the wounds of my past healed one by one. When the priest pronounced the absolution and forgiveness of my sins, I knew that God truly had washed me clean through this man. Free from my former wounds, I saw that I was sharing more and more in the joy of the priest I had met.

Impacted by the change and the truth that had overcome me, I did apply to become a priest and entered the Jesuits, a religious order in the Catholic Church, last fall. I’m doing so well, and each step of my journey confirms more and more that I’m in the right place.

Now, I’ve specifically cut out the philosophical and intellectual reasons why I left behind my latent atheism and why I chose the Catholic Church over the numerous other churches out there. Should you be interested, I invite you to go through the other posts of my blog or to e-mail me directly at daveinchow@comcast.net .

I offer a personal invitation to all who read this post: give God a fair chance, open your heart to Him, and He will not fail to answer you.

May God bless you now and always.

Best wishes,
David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.

“Patience obtains all things
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.”

–St. Teresa of Avila

(The Payson Temple of the LDS Church, photo credit to Alan Jensen)

On April 21st a bus dropped me off in Rexburg, Idaho. I had no contacts, no phone, and $35 to my name. Thus began my 30-day pilgrimage, one of the various “experiments” or “experiences” that characterize the first two years of Jesuit life in the novitiate. Why Rexburg, Idaho, to start? Well, after praying for a few days before the journey about where the Lord was calling me to begin, I determined that He was sending me to engage in dialogue with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons, for short). I did wind up having many spiritually uplifting dialogues with Mormons by the close of my pilgrimage.

However, now that my sojourn around the United States has come to an end, one experience in particular rises above the rest in my memory, and the contents of this memory have more to do with my relationship with God than with my individual encounters with Mormons. About midway through my journey, I had acquired around $250 from generous people who wished to support me. As I was walking to church on Sunday, the Spirit seemed to say to me, “You have all of this money… Is this comfort hurting the goal of the journey, which is to rely upon God? Are you becoming too complacent?” The thought troubled me. Was God really telling me to start over with nothing, to give the money away to someone who might need it more than I even though I myself “needed” it? I prayed a little more, and the Spirit confirmed the suggestion. I knelt down and entrusted the situation to God, and shortly thereafter I did let go of the money.

Then came the doubts. I questioned, “What did I just do? Did I really just give away the resources that would help me return to St. Paul safely?” It was quite troubling, but a deeper peace began to take root. As stated in the lyrics of the beautiful hymn “Be Still, My Soul,” God was softly whispering to me, “Leave to thy God to order and provide; In ev’ry change He faithful will remain. Be still, my soul: Thy best, thy heav’nly Friend Thru thorny ways leads to a joyful end.” Is this feeling not that of spiritual consolation? The soul feels calm despite the external storms.

Soon enough, though, came a minor miracle. At church a gentleman with whom I’d spoken earlier for a few minutes approached me. He smiled at me and said, “David, you seem like a good man, and, besides that, you’re from one of my favorite cities, Chicago. I’m going to get you a plane ticket home.” At this point I nearly cried. Words from Scripture resounded in my head, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap” (Luke 6:38). When we give, we receive. And sometimes–like this time–God allows us to receive from Him in a very visible, manifest way.

I retell this story not to make it seem as if I follow God’s will perfectly; I was honestly more reluctant than anything else. However, it illustrates a greater truth: God’s providential hand guides us. When we listen to Him, blessings do come, whether in this life or in the next.

I leave you with the following verse, which I testify to be true to the glory of God the Father: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?… Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:25,33).

Best wishes,

David J.W. Inczauskis, n.S.J.