Monthly Archives: April 2018

The True Vine

Christ_the_True_Vine_icon_(Athens,_16th_century)

Christ the True Vine (icon), 16th century,  Byzantine and Christian Museum, Athens, Greece.

I read in the newspaper this week there is a global wine shortage caused by unusually cold and wet weather in Europe, resulting in the smallest grape harvest since World War II. This wine-related news was on my mind as I read the Gospel for this fifth Sunday of Easter (John 15:1-8). In this passage, Jesus uses symbolic language of the vineyard to explain his relationship with his followers. In one of his famous “I am” sayings, our Lord describes himself as the “true vine” and encourages his disciples to “abide” in him. Abiding in Jesus results in bearing fruit. Those who do not bear fruit are removed from the vine.

How do we abide in Jesus? That is, how can we stay connected to him? This question gets to the heart of salvation. To be saved initially, under normal circumstances, we must repent, believe, and be baptized. To maintain our salvation, to stay connected to Jesus, we must repent, believe, and confess mortal sin whenever we become aware of it. The consequence of not staying connected to Jesus is catastrophic: “If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned” (v. 6). Although troubling, the language of damnation is unmistakable here.

In the very next verse after the Gospel reading, Jesus says “Abide in my love” (v. 9). Thus, Jesus equates abiding in him with abiding in love. In 1 John 4:8 we read, “Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.” Love is not a sentimental feeling, but a self-giving, self-sacrificing action. If you want to know what love looks like, gaze at Jesus on the cross!

Jesus reveals his love to us through his Word, which tells of his sacrificial death, and in the sacrament of the Eucharist. The same Jesus who said “Abide in me” meets us in the Sacrament of his body and blood. The vine is both a Christological and a Eucharistic symbol. As Catholics, we believe that “in the communion . . . the faithful receive ‘the bread of heaven’ and ‘the cup of salvation,’ the body and blood of Christ who offered himself ‘for the life of the world’ (CCC, 1355). One important way to stay connected to Jesus and his love is through frequent reception of the Eucharist.

Although there may be a shortage of wine this year, there can never be a shortage of God’s love.

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Born Again Catholic

Easter Vigil 2018 Moger Family with Father Escalante

“To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” —Blessed John Henry Newman

After being a Baptist minister for over 25 years, I decided to join the Catholic Church. My decision came after a long period of study and discernment. I remain eternally grateful to the Presbyterian Church in which I was baptized and confirmed as well as to the Baptists, who educated and ordained me, and affirmed my call to the Christian ministry. In addition to serving as a pastor of four Baptist churches, I had the privilege of being a Navy Chaplain for 24 years, endorsed by the Southern Baptist Convention, both on active duty and in the Navy Reserve. I am thankful for all these opportunities. Now, at age fifty, I am leaving a ministry I love to follow Christ whom I love more.

My decision to join the Catholic Church has been a long time coming. I wrote my doctoral dissertation about the Protestant Reformation as seen through the eyes of a traditional Catholic priest who remained faithful to Rome. An intensive study of the Bible and Christian history convinced me that the Catholic Church is the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” the ark of salvation founded on the rock of St. Peter and entrusted with the faith handed down by Christ and his apostles. I find her authority, doctrine, sacred liturgy, moral teachings, and prayer life in line with the teachings of the Bible and the historic Christian faith.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said, “There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church—which is, of course, quite a different thing.” Those words resonate with my own experience. Once I began to study Catholicism in earnest, I discovered that much of what I had been taught was in error. For evangelical Protestants who desire to understand the Catholic faith, I recommend the book Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David B. Currie. A longtime friend who reconciled with the Catholic Church suggested it to me, and I found it helpful in my own spiritual journey. However, the best reference for understanding the Catholic faith is the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

When I was serving on active duty at the Navy Chief of Chaplains Office and then at the U.S. Naval Academy, I spent many evenings researching and writing in the library of Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. Every time I entered the building I would read the inscription next to the door: “Seek the Truth, Come Whence It May, Cost What It Will.” This has become the motto of my spiritual journey. I invite all seekers of the Truth to join me.

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