Category Archives: Apologetics

Imitating the Gaze of Jesus

I used to be (and unfortunately, still am at times) a rather obnoxious Catholic. Fueled by my enthusiasm for Truth — and wanting affirmation of my knowledge — I would loudly proclaim Church teachings urgently, so that other people would no longer live in error. Particularly in a culture of moral relativism and a “do what makes you happy” environment, wanting to immediately step onto a doctrine-blasting soapbox seemed like a good thing to me. Yet, the more I examined my life, heart, and ever-abundant pride, the more I realized that I was going about evangelization in the wrong manner. As I began to read Scriptures more and more, I began to really notice how Jesus interacts with other people.

“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and curing every disease and illness. At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,* like sheep without a shepherd.” ~Matt 9:35-36

Jesus’ heart was moved with pity. In Mark’s Gospel, when Jesus encounters a rich young man, we learn that “Jesus, looking at him, loved him” (Mk 10:21). Time and time again, we see that Jesus is moved with love, and pity for the people he meets-and he lets this compassion flow into the interactions he has. He looks at these men and women intently and listens to them. 

As I reflect on the actions of Jesus, I feel challenged. Even when people were living in sin, he didn’t immediately jump onto a moral high horse. First, he looked upon them with love. In our current culture, Jesus’ approach may not seem to initially be challenging — after all, we are living in an age that is all about acceptance and affirmation. “Just love people for who they are and accept them” is a common refrain.  How dare we criticize sinful actions! After all, aren’t we supposed to be like Jesus, who looked on others with love?

Yet, while Jesus looked on people with love, compassion, and pity, he never affirmed the sinful choices and lifestyles that pushed people away from God. The story of the woman who was caught in adultery (recorded in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel) is fairly well-known and loved, so let’s look at that for a moment. When Jesus encounters this woman, does he say “Woman, I just want to love and accept you; you need to do what makes you feel happy“? No, he does not. Instead, Jesus says: “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more” (Jn 8:11). He looks upon the woman, loves her, listens to her, and invites her to become transformed and change her life. 

This is what really challenges me as I reflect on the words and actions of Jesus.  It would be fairly easy for me to, upon meeting another person, jump into an attitude of “I will preach doctrine at you because you’re living in sin and I know better.” I’ve done this far too many times as I’ve sought to fuel my pride and be known as the person who was instrumental in another individual’s conversion. It would also be convenient to fall onto the other end of the spectrum and embrace the all-too-common attitude of moral relativism that’s sweeping our culture.

Instead of these extreme approaches, I’m trying to imitate what Jesus does — and this is hard for me. I’m holding my tongue more and first listening to the stories of the people I meet. I’m seeking to encounter others with an open heart. I’m trying to walk into conversations without the expectation that I’ll convince another person of a certain teaching or doctrine. I’m trying to slow myself down and actually form relationships and build bridges of communication with other people. I’m striving to be more open to the Holy Spirit, and while I don’t back down from my convictions, I’m seeking to gaze at other men and women with God’s love and compassion.

I often fail at this. Sometimes, I should be quicker to speak up about my beliefs, but I’m silent. Other times, I should probably remain silent instead of speaking up in a rather harsh manner! I’m an imperfect evangelizer, but I’ll keep praying and try to let God use me in whatever small ways he can.

Photo Credit: “People” by MabelAmber via Pixabay, CCO Public Domain. 

Suffering Servant

Mark 10:32-45

The Apostles heard Jesus preach about the kingdom many times and they believed this kingdom was to come before His death. It is in this context that James and John, two beloved Apostles in the inner circle of Jesus, asked to be seated at His left and right hand (Mk 10:37).

Jesus’s reply was not so much an answer but a statement that

“His kingdom will not be of this world, and that to sit by His side is something so great it surpasses the angelic orders — which they did not yet merit.” (St. Theophylact)

Influenced by human feelings, the remaining Apostles became ridden with envy and felt indignant at James and John (Mk 10:41). Jesus however, intervenes and ‘called them to Him’ (Mk 10:42), teaching that the greatest amongst them must be their servant (Mk 10:43). Jesus substantiates His statement with living proof of Himself, since He came down from Heaven to give His life for the world (Mk 10:45).

Christ Carrying the Cross, El Greco (1577–87)

This consistent theme of the “Suffering Servant” throughout the entirety of Mark’s Gospel is something beautiful and rich with wisdom. Jesus, like Christianity today, continues to challenge worldly norms even though the Church has always been in the minority. Catholics have been the only ones consistently speaking out against the world on intrinsic evils like Abortion, Euthanasia and Contraception. An inevitable blooming Culture of Death.

Yet, while the Church continues to guard and promulgate the Truth, she will always do so from the perspective of a Suffering Servant, not a demanding tyrant. The world will always mock and hate us, but as a wise man once told me — being hated by the world is a sign that you’re in the right Church. As the Saints have echoed through the centuries, “The Truth which subsists in the Church will always be rejected by the world.”

If I were not a Catholic, and were looking for the true Church in the world today, I would look for the one Church which did not get along well with the world; in other words, I would look for the Church which the world hated. My reason for doing this would be, that if Christ is in any one of the churches of the world today, He must still be hated as He was when He was on earth in the flesh.

If you would find Christ today, then find the Church that does not get along with the world. Look for the Church that is hated by the world as Christ was hated by the world. Look for the Church that is accused of being behind the times, as our Lord was accused of being ignorant and never having learned. Look for the Church which men sneer at as socially inferior, as they sneered at Our Lord because He came from Nazareth.

Look for the Church which is accused of having a devil, as Our Lord was accused of being possessed by Beelzebub, the Prince of Devils. Look for the Church which, in seasons of bigotry, men say must be destroyed in the name of God as men crucified Christ and thought they had done a service to God.

Look for the Church which the world rejects because it claims it is infallible, as Pilate rejected Christ because He called Himself the Truth. Look for the Church which is rejected by the world as Our Lord was rejected by men.

Look for the Church which amid the confusions of conflicting opinions, its members love as they love Christ, and respect its Voice as the very voice of its Founder, and the suspicion will grow, that if the Church is unpopular with the spirit of the world, then it is unworldly, and if it is unworldly it is other worldly. since it is other-worldly, it is infinitely loved and infinitely hated as was Christ Himself. But only that which is Divine can be infinitely hated and infinitely loved. Therefore the Church is Divine.”

— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

Eternity

2 Peter 3:12-15, Psalm 90, Mark 12:13-17

‘But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.’ (2 Peter 3:13). This is the verse that struck me today because it speaks of eternity. What exactly do Christians mean by ‘Eternity’?

In popular speech, saying that something is “eternal” means that it lasts for an unlimited amount of time. From a Christian perspective, this is incorrect because the term “eternal” means OUTSIDE OF TIME.

We could look at the first verse of the Bible to give us a clearer understanding: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1). St. Thomas Aquinas states that this single verse alone reveals that our Eternal God created four things: 1) Heaven. 2) The Angelic Order (Angels). 3) Time. 4) Corporeal Matter (Earth).

This is why we say that God is ‘eternal’. He was before Time. God simply, ‘is’. That is why when Moses asked for God’s name, His answer was, “I am who I am” (Ex 3:14). This is one of the most important verses which all Christians need to know. The ORDER of creation is very deliberate. It is important to realize that God created Heaven and Angels BEFORE Time and Earth. That is why we must believe Angels exist.

Christians who de-emphasize the existence of Angels are denying their own spirituality. Angels are continuously present from the first pages of Scripture, all the way to the end. The problem today though, is that we live in the age of man, of self-consciousness, of science. That is why the world loses belief in Angels, Heaven and God. This is why the world also loses hope in ‘Eternity’.

Reason demands angels.
— Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen

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Originally posted on Instagram.

How Do You Know There’s a God?

Often I get asked a few questions:
How do you know there’s a God?
How do you know that Christianity is the right religion?

Faith, of course. But never without reason.

As children, when we see something, we intuitively always inquire about its origins and inner workings.

Where did this table come from? Who made it?Earth
Where did the book come from? How is it made?
How come the telly can switch on with a flick of the button?

It seems reasonable that a child asks such questions. It is after all in our nature to be drawn towards the truth.
Imagine a parent now tells the child that the answer to the above questions is: “Chance”.
Stupid parent at best, lazy parent at worst.

Somehow… when it comes to the biggest questions of the world: “How did the world come to be?”… We seem to be content with the answer “it just happened by CHANCE.”

ABSURDITY? Perhaps.

Quoting Pope St. John Paul II (General Audience of Wed, 10 July 1985) because he has expressed it so concisely:

“To speak of chance for a universe which presents such a complex organization in its elements, and such a marvelous finality in its life would be equivalent to giving up the search for an explanation of the world as it appears to us. In fact, this would be equivalent to admitting effects without a cause. It would be an abdication of human intelligence which would thus refuse to think, to seek a solution for its problems.”

Prayers today for people who find it hard to even conceive of a day where they might believe that there is a creator of this world.

Fides Quaerens Intellectum, faith seeking understanding.

May God grant you the grace to believe so that you may understand.

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Originally posted at Catholic Rambles.

Hell

James 5:1-6, Psalm 49, Mark 9:41-50

Hell is not just a theoretical possibility according to the Gospel reading on 24 May and many more passages in scripture.

“The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (CCC 1035)

Although Hell is real, prudence must be exercised when we teach others about it. St. John Paul II gives us a helpful reminder to all Christians: “The issue that some will go to hell is decided, but the issue of WHO in particular will go to hell is undecided.”

Sandro Botticelli, Chart of Hell

I particularly despise people who proclaim things like, “You are going to hell if you don’t convert to Christianity!” Such people are arrogant and presumptuous.

It is important for us to know our place. ALL of us will be judged, Christian or not (c.f. Mt 25:31-46). We are not the judge (c.f. Jas 4:12). Claiming with absolute certainty that someone is going to hell is the grave sin of presumption because they assume the role of God.

That is why up till this day, the Catholic Church has never definitively declared who’s in hell — because the truth of the matter is, she doesn’t know! Yes, even non-believers and the worst sinners.

Many today think that this is just a politically-correct answer. To such people, let me ask a simple question: “How would YOU know that even the greatest sinner did not, at the last second of his death, cry out to Jesus to save him?”

This is the essence of the good thief in Luke’s Gospel. The story’s purpose is to show that God’s mercy is limitless.

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Originally posted on Instagram.

The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

By guest writer Victor R. Claveau, MJ.

Let me tell you a story that will illustrate one of the many reasons why the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

Not long ago, I was invited to address the Bible and Philosophy students at a Protestant High School. The teacher and I were to meet a few days before I was to speak to the students, to get to know one another and to discuss the schedule. We met on a Sunday evening at 5:30 pm.

A few minutes after I arrived at his home, the doorbell rang, and four other people entered. As it turned out, these people were the teacher’s pastor, the pastor’s wife, and two other teachers. I was a little taken aback by the circumstances as the teacher did not tell me that he had invited other guests.

After brief introductions, our host invited his friends to ask me questions about the Catholic religion.

As I began to answer their questions, one of the teachers interjected time and again trying to explain the Protestant position. After two or three interruptions, I finally said, ‘Everyone here, including me, knows what you believe, now is your chance to find out what the Catholic Church really teaches and the foundations for those beliefs. I did not come here to argue but am willing to explain and possibly build a bridge between us.’

From then on, we had a worthwhile dialogue.

I had been answering their questions for almost three hours when the Pastor’s wife posed the question: ‘Why do you believe that you are really eating Jesus when you have communion in your church?’

Thank you for the question,” I said. “Let me try to explain by asking you a few questions.

Who created the universe?” I asked.

“God”, she answered.

“And how did God create?” I asked further.

“He spoke,” she answered.

“Right,” I said, “now let’s look at the Book of Genesis, Chapter 1:1-30 and follow along with me as I read.” Then I read the following passages.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light”, (Genesis 1:1-4)

“What happened when God said, ‘Let there be light’,” I asked.

“There was light”, she answered.

“Yes,” I said, “in verse 4 it says that ‘there was light.’ God spoke and there was light”.

And God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament and separated the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament. And it was so (Genesis 1:6-7).

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so (Genesis 1:9).

And God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:11).

And God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so (Genesis 1:14-15)

And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds: cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so (Genesis 1:24).

And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis 1-29-30).

In each of these creation accounts,” I said, “God declared something to be and ‘It was so.’”

Let’s go to the Book of Isaiah.” ‘So shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:11).

“Doesn’t this passage indicate that whenever God declares something to be, then it becomes a reality at that instant?” I asked.

“Yes,” she agreed.

I went on.

“In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus said to the fig tree ‘May no fruit ever come from you again!’ And the fig tree withered at once (21:19). Isn’t that correct?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“When the hemorrhaging women reached out through the crowd and touched Jesus’ cloak, she was healed by her faith. ‘And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone forth from him, immediately turned about in the crowd, and said, ‘Who touched my garments?’ (Mark 5:30). Jesus had the power to heal.

“When Jesus said to the adulterous woman that her sins were forgiven, were they in fact forgiven?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Jesus withered the fig tree, healed the hemorrhaging woman, and forgave the adulterous woman. How could he do this?” I asked.

And the Pastor’s wife answered, “Because Jesus is God.”

“Yes, of course,’ I said, “we all believe that Jesus is God and as God He has no limitations.”

Then I went on to further explain:

“And Jesus (God) said, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6:53-58).

“And Jesus (God) said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:22-24).

During the Last Supper, Jesus held bread in His sacred hands and declared that the bread was in fact His Body.

“Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in his hands at that moment?” I asked.

There was a pregnant silence for a few seconds, before the pastor’s wife said, “Himself”.

I pressed on and asked, “Who. Not what, was Jesus holding in His hands when He declared the contents of the cup to be His Blood?”

“Himself” She answered.

“Yes,” I said, “He actually gave His Body and Blood to the Apostles to eat and drink. Certainly, this is a mystery, one of the greatest mysteries in the history of the world. These elements still looked and tasted like bread and wine, but in fact they had become in reality Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity, simply because, as God, He declared them to be so.

“‘Christ held Himself in His hands when He gave His body to His disciples.”

I felt as though I was on a roll, so I said, “Let me explain further”.

“Jesus went on to say, ‘Do this in memory of me’. What did He mean by the word ‘this’?

“He had just changed bread and wine into His Body and Blood, and He commanded His Apostles to do the same. At that moment Jesus instituted the Sacrament of the Priesthood, and during the Mass, when a duly ordained priest says the same words Jesus spoke, the Holy Spirit changes bread and wine into the reality of Jesus’ Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

“The faith of the Apostolic and early Church in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Eucharist is attested by the words of Saint Paul and the Fathers; by the discipline of the Secret: the symbols and illustrations found in the catacombs. The fact that the Church from the very beginning believed in the Real Presence proves that the doctrine must have been delivered to her by her Founder.

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Victor R. Claveau, MJ has been a full-time Catholic evangelist since 1989 and is a graduate of the Diocese of Melbourne School of Evangelization. As the Director of Catholic Footsteps “The Evangelization Station” in Angels Camp, California, he has lectured on Catholic belief and evangelization both nationally and internationally.

The Visitation

Zephaniah 3:14-18, Isaiah 12:2-6, Luke 1:39-56

Hail MaryToday, the Church invites us to recall the visitation of our Blessed Mother (pregnant with Christ) to her cousin Elizabeth (pregnant with John the Baptist). This visitation cannot be overlooked because it reveals to us why Catholics have always believed that Mary is the NEW Ark of the Covenant. Consider these typologies from the Old to the New:

God the Holy Spirit overshadowed and then in-dwelled the Ark (Ex 40:34) 👉 The Holy Spirit came upon Mary and the Power of the Most High overshadowed her. (Lk 1:34)

David said: “How can the Ark of the Lord come to me?” (2 Sam 6:10) 👉 Elizabeth said: “Why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1:43)

David danced with all his might when the Ark arrived (2 Sam 6:13,14) 👉 John the Baptist leaped in Elizabeth’s womb when Mary arrived (Lk 1:41).

Ark remained in the house of O’bede’dom for three months (2 Sam 6:11) 👉 Mary remained three months with Elizabeth (Lk 1:56).

Unless this is all purely coincidence, one can only conclude that the Catholics are correct. Mary was designated by God to be the New Ark of the Covenant carrying the Word into the world.

We must ponder deeply in our hearts what this means. In the Old Testament, the Ark was so perfectly pure that Uzzah was struck dead just for touching it. Think about it, that was the Old Testament. All Christians today believe that the New Testament brings the Old Testament to fulfilment. Which means Mary by logic, is much GREATER than the Old Ark.

Luke further substantiates this in the Magnificat:

“My soul MAGNIFIES the Lord, ALL generations will call me BLESSED!” (Lk 1:46,48).

Friends, let us all remember that our Blessed Mother’s role is and always will be to MAGNIFY the Lord (think of a magnifying glass).

Mary does not bring salvation, but she will ALWAYS bring us closer to her Son, that we can be assured of. I can personally testify to that. Since I’ve started devotion to Mary a few months ago, I have noticed changes in my life that are incredible and irrefutably due to Mary’s intercession. And the best part? I love Jesus so much more than I ever did before!

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Originally posted on Instagram.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus on the Cult of Numbers

About Gregory

Gregory the Theologian, (1408), Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir, Wikimedia Commons.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus (c. 326/330 – 390), nicknamed since antiquity as ‘The Theologian’, was a fourth-century bishop, born in the rural setting of modern-day central Turkey. He is venerated as a Father of the Church, and is one of the Cappadocian Fathers, along with Ss. Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nyssa.

Gregory fought strenuously for spiritual orthodoxy, particular in relation to a doctrinal understanding of the Trinity, championing the Nicene perspective, and developing a unique Trinitarian language. He viewed the Nicene stance as a midday between the heretical extremes of Sabellianism and Arianism.[i]

Classically trained in rhetoric and philosophy, he is responsible for transposing Hellenism into the Early Church. In fact, “Gregory’s literary ability was regarded so highly by the learned connoisseurs of Byzantium that they ranked him with the great stylists of classical poetry and prose.” [ii] For example, Psellos (c. 1017 – 1028) describes Gregory’s style in glowing terms as embodying the gifts of figures such as Demosthenes, Pericles, Lysias and Herodotus, whilst outranking them, in wit, persuasive power, beauty and skill.[iii] He was even well regarded by Renaissance humanists for his literary prowess.[iv]

Gregory has left the Church with a large corpus of written works: letters, poems and orations. It is through his orations—speeches delivered in homilies and sermons, and polished and edited in his later life—that he has extended his greatest influence, both theologically and literarily.

Oration 42

Among his 44 orations is Oration 42—a Farewell Address; a kind of apologia directed at his flock at Constantinople upon his resignation. A resignation made for the purpose of quelling the dissensions and controversy surrounding his Canonically awry position in Constantinople. He thus stepped aside, to keep the peace.

The audience included the 150 bishops of the Eastern Church gathered for the First Council of Constantinople (381), and various rivals low and high. It is also addressed to the Nicaean faction in general. He is defending accusations against his style of ministry in Constantinople, whilst raising the banner of his Trinitarian faith. He says his farewells with a mix of sadness, joy, and satire, and leaves by throwing a few preacher-punches at the “great and Christ-loving city!” a descriptive term he calls unenlightened, while at the same time it is expressive of his hope of what could be.[v] Still, the tenderness of his delivery is undeniable—in Gregory is a pastor who loved his people.

The Cult of Numbers

The portion of this Oration I’d like to draw attention to is section 7, where Gregory alludes to a worldly, economic kind of religious way of thinking, that can be described as the cult of numbers. This can simply be understood to be a measuring of spiritual success and fruitfulness in Christian communities, based solely on numbers—on the population of a group in the Church or the Church as a whole. It is an outlook that focuses on the external of quantity, to the exclusion and neglect of the quality of such members. A quality defined by sound spirituality and doctrine, manifesting in holiness and love.

The Context of His Farewell

In the context of his Farewell Oration, he speaks to a church where the Nicene community has recently regained power from the Anti-Nicene’s; finally having the support of imperial policy on its side. It is “a people now grown from small to great, from scattered to well-knit, from a pitiable even to an enviable state”—and Gregory testifies to this increase as the work of God, the rich harvest won through his ministry with the support of his companions.[vi] Yet he does not praise the increase in numbers as the real reason to rejoice, but the increase in this people’s quality: a people who soundly “worship the Trinity”.[vii]

Gregory—God and Numbers

In the following extract Gregory shares what he thought he “heard God saying” (Or 42:8) in those days when the faithful adherents of the Trinity in Constantinople were a mere remnant, “tiny and poor” (Or 42:4), vastly outweighed by those who “wickedly divided” the Godhead in their false doctrines: many of whom, brought from darkness to light, falsehood to truth, now stand before Gregory as he speaks.

“But you build walls around me, and marble slabs and mosaic floors, long colonnades and porticoes; you glitter and shine with gold, spending it like water and gathering it up like sand, forgetting that faith camping in the open is worth more than the richest impiety, and that three-people gathered in the name of the Lord are worth more to God than tens of thousands who deny the divinity. Do you value the Canaanites more than Abraham, all by himself? Or the Sodomites more than Lot on his own? Or the Midianites more than Moses—though all of these were aliens and strangers? What of the three hundred of Gideon, who manfully lapped up the water, while thousands were rejected? What of Abraham’s household slaves, a few more than these in number, who pursued and defeated many kings and their armies of thousands of men, few though they were? And how do you understand this passage: ‘If the number of the children of Israel should become as the sand of the sea, only a remnant will be saved?’ Or this: ‘I have left for myself seven thousand men, who have not bent their knees to Baal.’ No this is not the solution—God does not delight in numbers![viii]

The Approach of a Spiritual Man

Gregory understood this Scripturally-derived lesson of God so very clearly. His understanding was applied in the way he went about his ministry. Faced with a tiny remnant Gregory did not conjure up systematic methods to increase his flock, with the mind of an accountant and tact of an administrator. Nor did he subject himself to human standards at the compromise of the Gospel message to gain sympathizers (Or 42:19). Nor did he play politics, to win members to his flock—siding with one faction against another, but he simply delineated between truth and falsehood, paying no regard to human groupings. And nor did he lord his authority over the Anti-Nicene’s in order to crush them, and consolidate the numbers of his Nicene-flock, when the tables turned in his camps’ favor, but rather he acted mercifully, to the point of being blamed for leniency by his very own.

For St. Gregory was a spiritual man, who saw things with a spiritual eye. Seeing success in the quality of his people, not in their numbers; to the point he even lost favor with much of his own due to his steadfastness to the Gospel of mercy. He knew what was at stake — “the salvation of the soul”— and saw his pastoral responsibility with a sharpness of vision: “to guard and protect his flock” but above all “by distributing the word” in teaching, example and the sacraments, which he calls “the first of our tasks” (Or 2:35).[ix]

In one of his poems he defends his Word-focused approach as a Bishop; an approach carried out from the motive of saving souls, not to increasing numbers for the sake of numbers:

You’ve been considering a bishop as you would an accountant, laying stress on mere rubbish, where I’ve been concerned with important issues. A priest should have one function and one only, the sanctification of souls by his life and teaching… Other matters he should relinquish to those skilled in them.[x]

Learning from Gregory

There is so much we can learn from St. Gregory on the cult of numbers. The lesson he understood so well, is perennially relevant to the Church in all its spheres: on the universal scale, the local parish scale, on the level of the religious community, and even to the microcosm of every youth, bible study or prayer group. The value of all of these is not weighed by the numbers of attendants or alleged adherents, but on the quality of the interior fruits of sound spirituality and doctrine, brought forth as the harvest of the Word; nourishing the real spiritual growth of its members, shown to be authentic by a visible and practical love.

It is easy for groups to become ‘accountant-minded’ and focus on numbers as the measure of spiritual success. Acting in ministry from the motive to “increase numbers,” and investing efforts to win “bums in seats.” Yet by focusing on numbers, we lose our focus of love—depersonalising the face of ‘the other’ into a mere number, thus losing sight of the face of Christ in our neighbour; and this is all a consequence of chasing after numbers instead of a deepened relationship with the Word and the lived proclamation of His Truth—a proclamation that reaches out to ‘the other’ as the image of God, not as the means to bump up a statistic.

St. Gregory of Nazianzus shows us that we need not focus on numbers, for “God does not delight in numbers!” but we need only focus on God the Trinity, seeking to increase the quality of the “tiny and poor” remnant in our midst—above all by seeking the Father, Son and Holy Spirit ourselves (in prayer, instruction and the sacraments); and this labour will be blessed by God who in time, will bring forth an increase far greater in quality and quantity, than we could ever achieve by our quest for greater numbers.

God did so in Constantinople in the fourth-century A.D., and He can do so again in our day; so long as we see like Gregory that our strength lies not in numbers, but in our God, and the unconditional Love He has for us (Ps 28:7). That Love of the Father for the Son, the Love who is the Holy Spirit—and increasing in this Love, which always reaches out, and not in numbers, must be our sole and only focus.

 

[i] Brian E. Daley, S.J., Gregory of Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathers (Oxfordshire: Routledge, 2006), Oration 42:16, pp. 147-148.

[ii] Ibid., p.1.

[iii] Ibid., p.27. Direct source, see Michael Psellos, “The Characteristic of Gregory the Theologian, the Great Basil, Chrystostom, and Gregiry of Nyssa.”

[iv] Ibid. pp. 26-28.

[v] Ibid. Oration 42:27, p.154.

[vi] Ibid. Oration 42:9, p.144.

[vii] Ibid. Oration 42:7, p.143.

[viii] Ibid., pp.143-144.

[ix] Ibid. Introduction, 53.

[x] On Himself and the Bishops, as it appears in Gregory of Nazianzus, The Early Church Fathers p. 52.

The Old Testament and the Karate Kid

It is a common charge against Christians that we ignore the unpalatable parts of the Bible, in particular the rules set down in Mosaic law as recorded in the Pentateuch.

Firstly, the Old Testament is a pre-Christian record of the development of the Jewish people as a nation.

It’s also an account of how mankind wrestled with the effects of the Fall and failed repeatedly to honor God’s commands. This utter fail demonstrates the need for a divine Savior.

In the spiritual life, as Aquinas explains, there is operative and cooperative grace. God works in us as a doctor does to restore us to full health, but we have to cooperate with the process, as a patient takes medicine and does appropriate exercises.

In the Karate Kid (1984), Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel by having him do seemingly pointless, unrelated tasks like waxing his car, sanding the floor, refinishing a fence and painting his house. However, all the repetitive motions involved in these tasks create muscle memories that are eventually vital to Daniel’s development in the art of karate fighting.

Similarly, some of God’s commandments in the Old Testament can seem arbitrary and strange to us. However, they all had a deeper purpose. They trained the people of God to live in obedience with His will, and marked them as a holy people set apart for His divine purpose.

Even today, the rules of the Church may seem strange and pointless, but they have been laid down with profound wisdom, honoring the unity of soul and body, a unity oft riven by sin. The practice of fasting teaches us not to follow our selfish urges and appetites; it trains us to be in spiritual fighting form, ready to deny ourselves of earthly goods for the sake of heavenly treasure.

As the flesh is cut off in circumcision, so does baptism, the new circumcision in Christ (cf. Colossians 2:11), cut us off from the fallen state of mankind, enabling us to live by the Holy Spirit.

Sometimes, children may not understand their parents’ commands, but when they grow up and mature in their relationship with their parents, they come to understand that it was all said and done in love for their own good.

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‘Apologetics and the Christian Imagination’ — A Richer, Deeper approach in connecting Souls With The Faith.

Are stories important for humanity? Is telling a story through books, movies, or the extemporaneous tales of mom and dad delivered to the children at bedtime simply an insignificant means of mere entertainment? In her book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, Dr. Holly Ordway shows us that in truth stories are powerful tools of conveying meaning, tools that are important for the work of spreading the Faith and forming souls in it.

While showing great understanding of both apologetics and human nature, Dr. Ordway explores the relationship between reason and imagination and how the human person utilizes each to come to know reality. Furthermore, she instructs the reader on the art of Imaginative Apologetics, which is a richer, deeper approach in connecting souls with the Faith. In this entertaining and easy-to-read book, Ordway makes a convincing argument for this method of winning souls.

                  

C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, and George MacDonald are but a few of the masters of this technique which Ordway presents. Each figure is a fantastic storyteller with stories that, as she puts it, baptize the imagination that allow the person to find meaning in the Theological world and grow closer to the God hidden beneath the narrative.
Ordway teaches, “Imaginative apologetics seeks to harness the God-given faculty of imagination to work in cooperation with reason, to open a way for the work of the Holy Spirit and guide the will toward a commitment to Christ.” Through the stories told by one practicing this method, the hearers are able to receive more than just a definition to memorize. Instead, the hearers are given a deep descriptive tale that conveys the meaning of the Theological truths that sometime evade the persons being instructed.

The book thoroughly explains how Theological meaning can be lost on some souls who simply misunderstand the words. Dr. Ordway posits that many think poorly of the Christian Faith not because they disagree with what is taught, but because they are without the proper meaning conveyed by what is taught. The author explains, “To those who know Christ, and unfortunately also to many who do, much ‘Christian language’ rings empty. Although words like ‘grace’, ‘sin’, ‘heaven’, and ‘hell’ point to a reality, for many listeners they might as well be empty slogan or the equivalent of the user’s agreement on an upgrade to your phone’s operating system: words that are received without attention, and without grasp of their meaning.”

Being far from one to find the faults and leave us without a solution, Dr. Ordway emphasizes how we apologists can help our listeners create meaning and avoid the sophist misconceptions of our times by way of a good story. She creatively and intelligently instructs the reader by explaining the workings of linguistics and how we understand the various senses of speech that we hear. Furthermore, her understanding and delivery of the meaning of being literal is delightful to read.

With the Church’s call for a New Evangelization, and many faithful Christians responding to bring the Gospel back to the hearts of humanity, this book is an important piece for our times. It instructs the bearer of Good News on how to carry out the work of apologetics as well as doing so in a way that allows the hearer of the Word to better grasp the meaning of the message. Moreover, it leads us to carry out this work in an aesthetic, sometimes even inconspicuous, manner, which would allow for Theological meaning to enter into the hearts and minds of those that might otherwise be opposed to the words delivered in a more outward manner.

Especially in our day, we are witness to many artists, writers, and musicians working to evangelize through beauty. Dr. Ordway’s book is a wonderful companion for those who have heard and answered the call to do this. In fact, it would not be surprising if this book is a catalyst for more talented souls to take on such important work.

Classroom teachers and catechists too can find inspiration to utilize more of Imaginative Apologetics with their students. The way Dr. Ordway presents it, we can see the powerful impact that this method is able to have on the hearts and minds of those being formed, especially the young.

Finally, this book could be greatly beneficial for all people, both within the work of apologetics and without, as we can learn to find Faith and Truth in the stories we hear in our world today, whether these messages are intended or not.

For these reasons I highly recommend Dr. Ordway’s Apologetics and the Christian Imagination to all those working in apologetics and evangelization alike. It is a remarkable manual for leading souls to know and understand the deeply profound truths of our Faith. Hopefully, it will even lead certain souls to become the next C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, or George MacDonald, and enlarge the library of good Christian stories available to mankind today.

The Church of Jesus Christ

To love and believe in Jesus is to obey Him.1 When one searches the Scriptures, it is readily apparent that Jesus established a Church founded on the rock of Peter,2 a corporeal and spiritual community to which all His followers were to belong. Examining history,3 we see that it is the Catholic Church which alone fits the description of this Church founded by Our Lord, handing down the Faith in an unbroken line of visible apostolic succession and dispensing divine graces through the sacraments instituted by Christ. God has given us the Church as the preeminent means of encountering, knowing, loving and serving Him. Obedience to Christ demands full communion with His Church, the Mystical Body and Bride of Christ. To try and seek Jesus in isolation would be to arrive at a defective understanding of and union with Him, His saving mission, and the Kingdom of God.

Being a person of faith entails being part of a community of believers, those who are ek-kaleo, called out by God, a people set apart,4 united in the covenantal bond with God.5 We are the Body of Christ,6 incorporated in Him through Baptism,7 partaking of the Eucharist,8 sharing in the one Priesthood of Christ and participating in the common worship of the one Divine Liturgy.9 The Church does not merely stand for Christ but is Christ;10 as St Jeanne d’Arc said, “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they’re just one thing, and we shouldn’t complicate the matter.11 The Risen Lord identified Himself completely with His Church, saying to Saul on the road to Damascus: “Why do you persecute Me?”12 Saul had never encountered Jesus during His earthly ministry, but was persecuting members of the early Church. Therefore, to love and obey the Church is to love and obey Jesus; they are one and the same. Conversely, to deny the Church is to deny Christ Himself, to separate oneself from the life of the Body of Christ and cut oneself off from the Living Vine.13 Those who claim to have a relationship with Jesus apart from the Church, at most have only an imperfect communion with Him.14

Christianity, being the religion of the Incarnation, is a faith manifested in the physical reality of the Church,15 which Jesus instituted to perpetuate the faith.16 The magisterium or teaching authority of the Church gives us the guarantee that the teachings of our faith are orthodox and apostolic;17 it also possesses the capability to iron out doctrinal controversies with conclusive pronouncements,18 instead of descending into disunity.19 Jesus said to His disciples: “He who hears you, hears Me, and he who despises you, despises Me; and he who despises Me, despises Him that sent Me.”20 Christ has endowed the presbyters of His Church with divine authority to “teach all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”21 In particular, Christ ensured the unity of His Church by centering the community on the rock of Peter,22 giving him administrative authority over His Church symbolized by the keys to the Kingdom;23 the Vicar of Christ is given a share in Christ’s own nature and office as the Rock and Cornerstone of faith.24 Ubi Petrus ibi ecclesia, et ibi ecclesia vita eterna: where there is Peter there is the Church, where there is the Church there is Life eternal,25 which is Jesus Christ. Christ spoke of the apostles’ function of being judges or rulers over His Church.26 This applies to the successors of the apostles – the bishops,27 who are pastors (literally, shepherds) of Christ’s flock, guiding and serving believers in the life of faith. It is based on the papal and collegial authority of the Church “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets”,28 that we have the Holy Bible and apprehend the articles of faith;29 it is by the preaching of the Church, the “pillar and ground of the truth”,30 that we have the Gospel through which we know Jesus.31

The ministerial priesthood is at the service of the baptismal priesthood,32 enabling believers to encounter Christ through the sacraments of the Church:33 particularly in Baptism, where one is incorporated through the working of the Holy Spirit into Christ’s Mystical Body; in Confirmation, where one receives the Holy Spirit again in order to be more fully configured to Christ and participate in His saving work; and most especially in the Eucharist, where one is physically and spiritually united with Jesus.34 One cannot have a more personal relationship with Jesus than in the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, where He becomes our very food,35 our spiritual nourishment. Jesus commanded his apostles to perpetuate the Holy Sacrifice in memory of Him,36 and this has continued to the present day through the Church’s liturgy, which is also the principal setting where the Scriptures – telling of the life and message of Christ – are read and meditated upon. Only the Church possesses the true sacraments through which God is encountered and His grace outpoured on this earth for His redemptive work;37 and the priests of the Church are uniquely configured to Christ, acting in persona Christi so that the faithful have immediate access to Christ through them.38 The Church is not an end in herself,39 but always directs the believer to Christ and the Kingdom of God,40 through the working of the Holy Spirit.41 The Church herself is a Sacrament,42 being a symbol and means of union with God and humanity,43 manifesting Christ in the same way that He was physically present during His earthly ministry, taking on a particular human form and living among men.44 The Church and her members are not barriers between oneself and Jesus; instead, participating in the life of the Church brings one closer to Jesus in the way He intended,45 and leads to salvation.46

One’s faith is sustained by the community through its rites, symbols and customs.47 Belief must be externalized through habitualization and ritual,48 then institutionalization;49 this externalization strengthens faith, embedding it in daily life. An individual’s growth occurs in tandem with the development of the society he belongs to.50 Without the support of a community, it is easy to lose faith in times of difficulties and distress. Even Protestants, who tend to emphasize one’s personal relationship with the Lord to the exclusion of the communion of saints, in practice still end up forming ecclesial communities where the members edify and encourage each other. Catholics have an incredible source of solace in the invisible members of the communion of saints, the Church Triumphant; through them, believers are given particular models of sanctity in living Christ-like lives, as well as heavenly assistance through their intercession, perfected by their union with Christ.51 Living in Christ entails living in communion with His saints, in Heaven and on earth.52

Divine revelation was public,53 not private in character, and the deposit of faith is necessarily passed on through the public witness of the ecclesial community, the Mystical Body of Christ.54 It is not a matter of indifference as to what faith one subscribes to; it is not sufficient simply to believe in God; if so, even the devils would be saved.55 One’s belief must be backed up by genuine divine authority and the authentic witness of a Christian life lived for God and for others.56

St Cyprian affirmed: “No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”57 Jesus is never found in isolation, and one cannot be a Christian alone. The very Godhead is a community, and the Christian life, being modeled on Trinitarian life,58 is by definition a communal way of life.59 The Lord commanded His disciples to love one another as He loved them, for by that shall all men know that they are His disciples.60 To love and imitate Jesus is to love those dear to Him – His family, His Church. This shared bond of love unites believers in a common witness to the world. Jesus’ prayer before commencing His Passion was that His followers would be one as He and the Father are one,61 so that the world may believe that the Father sent Him.62 Life in Christ is characterized by harmony and unity;63 authentic Christian faith is summarized by the four marks of the Church: One,64 Holy,65 Catholic and Apostolic.66

In conclusion, it is only through the Catholic Church, the Barque of Peter, that one is assured of receiving the genuine apostolic faith handed down from the time of Christ through Scripture and Tradition. In the sacraments, one truly encounters the Crucified Christ, not only spiritually but physically as well. To divorce oneself from Christ’s Church is to impoverish one’s faith, robbing it of the support and nourishment of the true Vine. It is possible to approach Christ outside the bounds of the visible Church, but to enjoy the fullness of life in Him is to be a member of His Holy Church, which is animated by His Spirit and fulfills His salvific mission from the Father.

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1 John 14:15.

2 Matthew 16:18.

3 John Salza, “What is the History of Your Church?” Scripture Catholic (updated 2004) http://www.scripturecatholic.com/history.html [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

4 Deuteronomy 7:6.

5 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”. Communio 22, 3 (Fall, 1995) pp. 418-432, at 419.

6 1 Cor. 12:27.

7 Dulles, op. cit., p. 423.

8 Fr Friedrich Jürgensmeier, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed and Ward (New York, 1954), p. 236.

9 Paul VI, 1964, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium), 34-36 [henceforth referred to as LG]; John XXIII, 1963, Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy (Vatican II, Sacrosanctum Concilium), 14.

10 Jürgensmeier, op. cit., p. 29.

11 “Acts of the Trial of Joan of Arc”, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 795 http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p123a9p2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

12 Acts 9:4.

13 Fulton Sheen, The Mystical Body of Christ. Sheed & Ward (London, 1935), p. 239; John 15:5.

14 Paul VI, 1964, Decree on Ecumenism (Vatican II, Unitatis Redintegratio), 3; Dulles, op. cit., p. 421.

15 Fr Timothy Radcliffe O.P., “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” (updated 10 April, 2010) http://www.thetablet.co.uk/article/14543 [accessed 6th May 2013].

16 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The Church or the Bible” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013].

17 Norman Cardinal Gilroy, Archbishop of Sydney, “The Magisterium of the Vicar of Christ”, L’Osservatore Romano, 4 April 1968, p. 7 http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/MAGVICXR.HTM [accessed 6th May 2013].

18 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 60.

19 Damen, “The Church or the Bible”, op. cit.

20 Luke 10:16.

21 Matthew 28:19.

22 Henri de Lubac, The Motherhood of the Church. Ignatius Press (San Francisco, 1982), p. 276.

23 Scott Hahn, “Scott Hahn on the Papacy” (updated 2007) http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/hahn.asp [accessed 14th May 2013].

24 Dr Thomas Mor Athanasius, “Primacy of St Peter” http://www.syrianchurch.org/Articles/PrimacyofStPeter.htm [accessed 14th May 2013].

25 St Ambrose of Milan.

26 Matthew 19:28.

27 Vat. II, LG, 28.

28 Ephesians 2:20.

29 Council of Rome, Decretum Gelasianum.

30 1 Timothy 3:15.

31 Fr Jules Lebreton, S.J., and Jacques Zeiller, The Church in the New Testament. Collier Books (New York, 1962), p. 83.

32 Vat. II, LG, 10.

33 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 431.

34 Avery Cardinal Dulles S.J., A Church to Believe In. The Crossroad Publishing Company (New York, 1982), p. 44.

35 John 6:5-6.

36 1 Corinthians 11:25.

37 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responses to Some Questions regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church, Fourth Question http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html [accessed 14th May, 2013].

38 Vat. II, LG, 28.

39 Yves Congar, This Church that I Love. Dimension Books (New Jersey, 1969), p. 97.

40 John Paul II, 1990, Redemptoris Missio (The Mission of Christ the Redeemer), Encyclical on the permanent validity of the Church’s missionary mandate, 18; Raymond E. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind. Geoffrey Chapman (London, 1984), p. 51; Fr Geoffrey Preston, O.P., Faces of the Church. T&T Clark (Edinburgh, 1997), p. 67.

41 Manuel Urena, “The missionary impulse in the Church according to Redemptoris Missio”. Communio 19, 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 94-102, at 101; Vat. II, LG, 4; Ephesians 1:17; Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 50.

42 Richard R. Gaillardetz, The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum. Paulist Press (New York, 2006), p. 43.

43 Vat. II, LG, 1.

44 Francis A. Sullivan, “The Evangelising Mission of the Church”, The Gift of the Church. Liturgical Press (Collegeville, 2000), p. 235.

45 Matthew 16:18, 18:18.

46 Congar, op. cit., p. 51.

47 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 419.

48 Adam B. Seligman, Robert P. Weller and Michael J. Puett, Ritual and Its Consequences: An Essay on the Limits of Sincerity. Oxford University Press (2008), p. 37.

49 Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality. Doubleday (New York, 1966), p. 53.

50 Ibid., p. 52.

51 Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, “The ‘Communion of Saints’ as three states of the Church: pilgrimage, purification, and glory”. Communio 15 (Summer, 1988), pp. 169-181, at 176.

52 Congar, op. cit., p. 97.

53 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 49.

54 Dulles, “The Ecclesial Dimension of Faith”, op. cit., p. 425; Pius XII, 1943, Encyclical Mystici Corporis Christi, 1.

55 Fr Arnold Damen S.J., “The One True Church” (updated 2013) http://www.drbo.org/church2.htm [accessed 23rd April, 2013]; James 2:19.

56 Luke 10:27; James 2:20.

57 St Cyprian, Epistle 43.

58 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 47.

59 David S. Cunningham, “The Trinity”. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. Cambridge University Press (Cambridge, 2003), p. 199.

60 John 13:34.

61 Lebreton and Zeiller, op. cit., p. 145; Congar, op. cit., p. 109.

62 John 17:11, 21.

63 Vat. II, LG, 1.

64 Gaillardetz, op. cit., p. 58.

65 Vat. II, LG, 39.

66 First Council of Constantinople, The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed.

How does His dying save me?

The following was a response to an inquirer who was troubled by the Christian language of Jesus’ saving death. How is it possible that God can be “appeased” by the death of His innocent son?

I have organized this in a Q& A format.
Why did God create creatures capable of sinning?
I guess we can flip this question around. Why did God create creatures capable of loving? To love means to have free will. Could God create creatures without free will? Yes He could. In fact He already has, by creating the plants and animals. Human beings (and angels) on the other hand, are creatures with free will, capable of choosing love. On the flip side, they are also capable of choosing selfishness. Choosing to be selfish is sin.
Did God know that His creatures would sin?
He would surely know. When He created creatures with free will, the possibility of disobedience/selfishness was in-built into the equation. Does He will that we sin? No He does not. But can God foresee the possibility? Yes He could. Take for instance the relationship between parent and child. After giving their child a good education for instance, can they foresee that it is possible for them to abuse it? Indeed they could. Nevertheless, they can also foresee them making use of this gift to serve society. And if they freely choose the loving act, it is a wonderful thing, it’s not something “forced.”

If His creatures were to sin, was the death of His son the only way to rescue/save them?

St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, two giants in Catholic theology, answer “No”. God is sovereign; He could choose other ways. He could simply forgiving them. In fact, He already did so as described in the book of Genesis. He banished Adam and Eve to be sure, because they seemed not to have been aware of the gravity of their actions, i.e. wanting to be like God (on their own terms), knowing (determining) good and evil. However, He showed that he cared for them by “making them garments of skins and clothing them.” (Gen 3:21)
In fact, in the entire Old Testament, God teaches Israel how to obtain forgiveness, through very precisely prescribed sin offerings via worship in the temple. The Psalms, especially psalm 51, are full of episodes of the human person recognizing his fault and being confident that he is forgiven.

If that is the case, then why must He send His Son to earth, if not on a rescue mission?

Blessed Duns Scotus, another giant in Catholic theology answer in the following manner: “The incarnation was the greatest and most beautiful” of God’s works and is not “conditioned by any contingent facts.” God has always planned to “unite the whole of creation with Himself in the person and flesh of the Son.”
In other words, His Son coming to earth was not “plan B” but always part of God’s intention from the beginning. If our first parents did not sin, nor subsequent human beings, then the incarnation would be like a courtesy call, something like the prince visiting the dwellings of his subjects to have tea with them. It would be something very happy and most pleasant. In fact, C.S. Lewis tries to imagine such a scenario in his space trilogy.
Even if our first parents sin, and so did subsequent human beings, the Son of God will nevertheless keep His appointment. Hence in the fullness of time, the incarnation, in a situation of dysfunction. One of the things that the Son of God need to do is precisely to heal the dysfunction.

Why must the rescue mission involve the crucifixion?

We must be very clear on this. God is not appeased when He sees blood. As you mention so correctly, it is ludicrous for someone convicted of murder to escape scot-free because the judge agrees that his own innocent son can take his place and die instead. This is not mercy. This is perversion. This is not Catholic teaching. Perhaps certain Protestant groups hold to this. It’s called penal substitution.

The crucifixion is not necessary, in the strict sense, for salvation. Why then did the Son willingly subject Himself to this?

Perhaps Plato (Greek philosopher a few hundred years before Christ) might help. Plato wonders what would happen to a perfectly righteous man if he steps into a society full of people who are dysfunctional and tries to help them. Plato concludes that these people would mostly likely crucify him.

What Plato highlights is the stark but terrible reality of human beings. We are often comfortable with our wrongdoing/selfishness and dysfunction. We don’t believe we need rescuing. If somebody who is righteous comes along and shows us a better way, we may well be resentful and feel it best that he gets lost. Maybe we want to put him to death in our hearts.

In the time of Jesus, crucifixion was Rome’s way of telling the enemies of Rome to conform. If you try rebellion, this is what will happen to you. When Jesus preached the kingdom of God, love, brotherhood, and worked His miracles among poor people, and later make gradual claims about his divinity, it was too much for both the Jewish people and the Roman governor Pontius Pilate. What Jesus seem to be preaching is a rival kingdom. Of course He has to die. And Jesus was willing to pay the price for the kingdom.

But how does His willingness to pay the price “save” me?
Catholics have divided the effects of Jesus’ death into two categories. His death as example, and His death as expiatory (making up for what we cannot).
Let’s deal with the example first.
The question for me, and perhaps for humankind, is “are we really that bad?” Surely I am not personally responsible for the death of Jesus? A popular hymn we sing at good Friday is “Were you there where they crucified my Lord?” Of course we were not there. But what if we were? Will we join in the crowd and shout “crucify him” due to cowardice? Or turn away and say “I prefer to mind my own business?” Or if we stand in solidarity with his Mother, do we not also feel the great sorrow at a man who did not wrong and yet suffered in that manner? And what if this was no ordinary righteous man, killed by evil men (an often too familiar action). What if this righteous man was God incarnate? Does this mean that in our free will, we are capable of killing God? And if we are capable of killing God, do we even deserve to be forgiven?

Applying it to our contemporary context, do we dare say we do not turn a blind eye to the evil around us? Are we also not complicit?

The answer from the cross is Yes. “Father forgive them for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). And if we are “cut to the heart” and realize that we are indeed capable of crucifying the Son of God, we may well cry out like Peter in a paradoxical way “leave me Lord for I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8) while at the same time clinging on to him tightly.

Hence His death saves us in an exemplary sense because we may well be “cut to the heart”. We are indeed sinners, we have nothing to boast about. We need a Savior. And God from the cross has already given the verdict. If you recognize your need for a Savior, you will indeed be forgiven, for we know not what we do.

How is Jesus’ death “expiatory” i.e. making right what we cannot?
Perhaps in comfortable modern society, we can make the case “saying sorry is enough and relationships can be restored.” We don’t encounter horrific evil that often. At least not personally. But think of the Japanese Occupation. Is “saying sorry” enough for a Japanese soldier who may have tortured and brutally murdered the husband of an innocent women?
No matter how sincere, even if the Japanese soldier were to commit seppuku in atonement, can we say that he has successfully “made up” for the evil he has done? Could we describe his death as “expiatory”?
While it is possible that his asking for forgiveness is sincere, and his sacrifice wholehearted, can he actually “make things right” for the woman after he has tortured and killed her husband? It is not possible.

This is where only the intervention of someone who hold the power of life and death and can make things right in a more than earthly sense becomes perhaps fitting.

Jesus is that someone. He is a man: He can be our true representative. He is God: His life given up willingly can actually make things right again. Why? Not because God the Father demands blood (he does not) but because the order of justice can actually be restored only through someone who is of cosmic importance.

For the Japanese soldier, in Christ, his attempt at expiation is made possible. For the victim, in Christ, the expiation (making right) not possible through the death of the Japanese soldier, becomes possible, since Christ holds the power of life and death.

In the Old Testament, the temple sacrifices of animals in atonement for sins is a constant pedagogical reminder to the people. Making things right is important. And yet the sacrifice of lambs can only be symbolic. For very serious breeches, forgiveness is always possible. Making things right “expiation”, however, is beyond your capability because in the final analysis, via a sacrificial animal , it can only be symbolic. You need YHWH Himself to provide the solution through His Messiah.

Hence the book of Hebrews has a very prescient observation (Hebrews 10:11-14):
Day after day every the priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins [referring to atonement not so much forgiveness]. But when this Priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.