Thursday, January 26, 2012

Reflections on 1 Corinthians 8-9

As many know, I grew up in the Protestant church or, rather, I grew up in one of the many branches of the Protestant church. Those with experiences similar to mine know about how the relationship with Christ that one has is supposed to be supremely personal.
Do not confess to a priest because they are simply your sins and of no consequence to anyone else. Going to church is not explicitly necessary because you can worship in your own individual way. Do not pray to saints because they are explicitly dead and have no bearing on the living community in Christ. Peter was not the Pope and was considered no higher than any of the other apostles, they were equals etc. ad infinitum. These are but a few of predominant thoughts in the many branches of the Protestant version(s) of the Faith.
That said, I want to focus on this aspect of individualism and the rite of Reconciliation as I meditate on Pauls words to the Corinthians in chapter 8 and then broach the subject that all Papists--like myself--love: the Papacy as it seems to come up in chapter 9 (this part will be shorter because I just want to show something I found striking in that chapter).
So, a lot of Protestantism is explicitly individualistic to the point of forgetting that the Church is also considered the body of Christ, that the community they participate in also is to act as Christ's arms, eyes, and feet on Earth. This has to be done on an individual basis as well as a communal basis. If the Church is like a body it follows that each part of the body functions on it's own (though directed by the brain and nervous system) and contributes to the health of the whole. It only makes sense.
Now, it has been put forward, by myself and others, that confessing to a priest is also a reminder that we are in community and that no sin is a completely private matter however secretive one is about it. When we sin, we bring damage to ourselves and--whether or not we keep it secret--that damage to ourselves can and often does lead to sin that damages the Church as a whole. We are individual strands that make up a strategy, but pulling one strand affects other strands. One strand cannot burn with lust and not expect it to not affect the whole. The Church is not a mere tapestry, so the results won't be as disastrous as the situation I used for metaphor (not to mention the Gates of Hell won't prevail against it), but that does not mean we should not worry that our actions--secret or not--effect others and could bring others to ruin thereby damaging Christ's church.
A good and terrible example of the effects of even secret sins could be found in a priest who perhaps struggles with pornography. He confesses about it often, but cannot seem to break free. Pornography has addictive qualities and also changes your perception about things like sex. So, it makes sense that eventually it would do the same to the very human priest and can push him to do something to his parishioners relating to his inflamed lust. His secret sin became something very public very quickly. If the person was a married parishioner, the porn would separate him from his wife--however secret it remains--and likely result in similar instances with other members of his family. Sin is sin and will affect others as well as ourselves. Thus, we are commanded to help our brothers and sisters out, to pray for them, and otherwise. It makes no sense to worry about such things if the Walk is a strictly individual walk as it is sometimes is made out to be (no one can tell me how to live my faith, blah, blah, blah).
So, confessing to a priest actually reminds us that we are in communion. You can be forgiven by God by confessing and praying on your own, but I grew to find that extremely isolating. Granted, you still have the option to go to a pastor or minister and ask for assistance, but there is something about actively hearing that you are forgiven, no matter what you have done. The priesthood is in place to provide that function as other functions. Plus, you get free advice and understanding.
Now, I bring this up in light of recently reading chapter 8 in 1 Corinthians. Here Paul explicitly states that how you behave, even if your knowledge is sound, there is a possibility that you could lead another person not as far along in their walk astray. You do need to worry about your own salvation, but also about that of those you commune with. So, let us not forget that we are not alone with God, but part of a beautiful Church that goes hand in hand with our personal walk.
Finally, I just found it interesting that Paul mentions the apostles and then mentions Cephas (Peter) on an individual basis. That seems to emphasize that Peter had a special place in the Church and Paul was recognizing that fact. Catholics believe Peter was the first Pope, which mean he oversaw everything and had certain powers given to him etc. Mentioning Peter on his own does not need to be done. It shows a certain level of respect that was probably do to Peter's position in the Church.
Also, keep in mind that the Pope has cardinals around him. He does not do everything on his own, though he is the one with the deciding vote. Peter had that as well. The other apostles, including Paul, actually had active discussions and debates with him when deciding the direction of the Church. Ultimately it fell on Peter to decide, but Paul's ministry to the Gentiles has to be given the say-so by Peter to be really done. It makes sense.
That's all for now!


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