Friday, May 28, 2010

Unjustified Immaculate Conception Outrage: God is Glorified

The most concerning thing for evangelicals regarding the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is that it seems to glorify Mary instead of God.

But this has it all backwards: the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception actually most glorifies God.

This is because, with the Immaculate Conception, Mary is the crowning example of God's extraordinarily gratuitous grace.

In her most helpless state - actually, even more than that - in her first state of existence God had already saved her. There was no moment of Mary's life that was not completely unheld by God's supernatural grace.

What did Mary contribute to her being born without Original Sin? Absolutely nothing. Zero. She made no contribution. There was no human contribution in any sense. The Immaculate Conception is a description of a fully divine act of grace. It is all God all the way down.

And so it is ironic that the same people who try to claim that Catholicism is a works-based religion will also scorn the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception!

When evangelicals accuse Catholics of making too much of a deal out of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, they are really accusing Catholics of making too much of a deal out of God's grace.

Mary's whole life is a testament to how wonderful God is.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

His name is...

His name is Elijah Francis Millegan!

Let me explain. Krista and I, especially Krista, felt that he displayed a lot of strength in certain ways. He was very active during the pregnancy. When he was born he came out with one of his arms next his head, charging into the world. And he had a true knot in his umbilical cord! So we chose Elijah because he was such a bold prophet (think Mt. Carmel!). And then we chose Francis, referencing St. Francis of Assisi, because we thought that his legacy might be something of a balance (not to say that Francis was weak! but he's known more for his gentleness it seems).

We're back home now. We had some extra days in the hospital because they discovered a blood clot in my wife's left leg. They quickly put a filter into her leg to catch anything that might get dislodged, and now she will be on blood thinners for a few months to get rid of the clot. Praise the Lord that she is all right and that everything seems like it's being taken care of. She still can't walk very well, but hopefully that will be better soon.

Elijah is doing great. He's eating, pooping, and sleeping just like he should.

We'd appreciate your prayers for all of this!

Friday, May 21, 2010

New Baby Millegan!

There is a new baby Millegan in the world.

My wife went into labor around 11pm. We got to the hospital at 2am. And our son (still unnamed right now) was born at 3:05am CST on May 21st. Things went fast! He was 7 lbs, 5 oz.

Mom and baby are safe and healthy. Praise the Lord!

"At the dawn of salvation, it is the Birth of a Child which is proclaimed as joyful news: "I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk 2:10-11). The source of this "great joy" is the Birth of the Saviour; but Christmas also reveals the full meaning of every human birth, and the joy which accompanies the Birth of the Messiah is thus seen to be the foundation and fulfilment of joy at every child born into the world (cf. Jn 16:21)." (Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Unjustified Immaculate Conception Outrage: Mary Was Saved Too

Here is another very common concern expressed by evangelicals regarding the Immaculate Conception:

If Mary had no sin, then she didn't need a Savior. Yet Mary clearly claims God as her Savior in her Magnificat recorded in Luke 1. So it seems the Immaculate Conception contradicts Scripture.

One of the great things about the Catholic Church is that her teachings can be found in depth in written form open to the public. (Unfortunately, this cannot be said of almost all evangelical churches.) Let us examine the actual teaching of the Catholic Church to see if it falls prey to this charge.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was declared dogma in an Apostolic Constitution issued by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 entitled Ineffabilis Deus. He defines the dogma as follows:
"the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin"

Let's unpack this a bit:
The Church teaches that Mary was conceived without Original sin by God's grace ("by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God").

And the Church teaches that this grace was based on the work of Jesus ("in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race").

The stain of Original sin is passed on to every human through their parents. So in her very conception, Mary was set to receive the stain of Original sin. But God, in view of the cross, intervened and prevented her from receiving it. From this, Pope Pius IX concludes in another part of the same writing, "hence, she was redeemed in a manner more sublime."

The charge that, in maintaining the Immaculate Conception, the Church teaches that Mary did not have a savior is simply false. Mary was redeemed by God's grace through Jesus. Mary rightly praises God as her Savior.

Mary was saved, too.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Unjustified Immaculate Conception Outrage: Misunderstanding Human Nature

The Immaculate Conception.

No, it's not about the conception of Jesus, it's about the conception of Mary, and it says that she was conceived without Original sin. For many evangelicals, the Immaculate Conception brings a flood of questions, annoyance, and outrage.

A concern that I have heard many evangelicals express is this: If Mary was sinless, doesn't that put her on par with Jesus?

What lies behind this is the idea that one of the markers of Jesus' divinity was his sinlessness. For only God is perfect! Part of what it means to be human is to be sinful. If you're not sinful, you're not human, you must be divine.

This is a misunderstanding of what it means to be human.

Sin is not an essential part of humanity. Adam and Eve existed in the garden before the Fall without sin, and they were still fully human, not divine. In heaven, there will no longer be sin - for all eternity! - and yet its human inhabitants will remain human.

But most importantly, in the person of Jesus there is a fully human nature and a fully divine nature. And yet, Jesus did not sin. If a person believes that sin is an essential part of what it means to be human, then they must also hold that Jesus was not fully human. And if Jesus was not fully human, he could not act as our representative on the cross, and we are not saved! In short, a misunderstanding of human nature can lead to a loss of the gospel.

In actuality, the opposite is true: a life without sin is the most fully human life!

Mary's sinlessness does not make her divine, it makes her more human.

Here is the actual text of the dogma:
"the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin" (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, Apostolic Constitution, December 8th, 1854)

More to come on the Immaculate Conception in future posts...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Image of the New Woman

Barbie. Lady Gaga. The Spice Girls. Desperate Housewives.

It is virtually impossible to live in our society today without being bombarded - assaulted even - by pagan images. I don't mean pantheistic gods and goddesses, I mean the over-sexualized, often anatomically impossible, air-brushed images that feed our women the message that to be feminine is to be sexually available. (If you don't believe me, walk into a store that sells maternity clothes. The message you often receive is that even pregnant women should still try to be sexy.)

This is the image that is placed before our women.

Does the Church offer us an alternative? Let us look in the beginning.

In the beginning, we find a man and a woman. We know the man as Adam. However, in the Genesis account of our first parents, the woman is not given her name, Eve, right away. In fact, for a whole chapter, including the account of the Fall, the woman is known as simply that - the Woman. In the beginning, Eve is the feminine model. 

What do we know about this Woman? First, she begins her life and enters the story in a pre-Fall state - that is, she lacks the stain of Original sin. Second, she is married. The writer of Genesis describes their relationship as the origin of the one flesh marriage union, and concludes by referring to the couple as "the man and his wife" (Genesis 2.25 ESV). Third, as long as she is the Woman, she is ostensibly a virgin. It isn't until after the Fall and after she is given her new name Eve that she and Adam conceive their first child, Cain.  

More importantly, in the story we find that it is the Woman to whom the Serpent first comes to tempt mankind: "[The Serpent] said to the woman, "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"" (3.1b, ESV) It is the Woman who is deceived by the Serpent, as Paul later notes: "and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor." (1 Timothy 2.14, ESV; Notice that Paul refers to her as 'the woman', not as 'Eve'). And it is the Woman who gives the forbidden fruit to Adam, whose "trespass resulted in condemnation for all people" (Romans 5.18, TNIV). In summary, the Woman, a married virgin lacking the stain of Original sin, is Satan's ally in the Fall of mankind - his first human ally in history. This is clearly no model to follow.

Sadly, many women do. In the Old testament we find Delilah seducing Samson, Solomon's foreign wives turning his heart toward idols, and Job's wife infamously imploring him: "Are you still holding on to your integrity? Curse God and die!" (Job 2.9, NIV)

But there is another model of a Woman, also from the very beginning. While in the midst of meting out punishments for the Fall, even then God offers humanity a sign of future hope, the protoevangelium, or the first gospel. Speaking to the Serpent, God prophesies: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." (Genesis 3.15, ESV) The Woman, just as she played a central role in the downfall of mankind, will be at the center of mankind's redemption.

We see glimpses of this new Woman throughout the Old Testament. The foreign woman Ruth remains loyal to her Jewish mother-in-law and joins the messianic family line. The mother in 2nd Maccabees couragously strengthens her seven sons toward martyrdom. Even Proverbs, though it often warns men to protect themselves against those women in the line of Eve who lead men astray, also sees a new line of the Woman that is based on faithfulness to God: "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised." (Proverbs 31.30, ESV)

This new line of the faithful Woman finds its own culmination in the culmination of the redemption of all of humanity. The protoevangelium is fulfilled: the Messiah - he who would definitively bruise the head of the serpent - is born of a woman, whom we know as Mary.

What do we know about Mary? The Church teaches that, in preparation for her special role in the redemption of mankind, God, in view of the merits of Christ's work on the cross, prevented Mary from receiving the stain of original sin from the very moment of her conception. ("[H]ence she was redeemed in a manner more sublime." Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus) Mary is betrothed to Joseph. Mary is also a virgin. And before bringing his Son into the world, God the Father bids first the help and consent of a woman. Mary is God's first ally in his redemption of mankind.

Thus, just as the first Woman was a virgin pledged to a man and chose without the effects of Original sin to become the first ally of Satan in the Fall of mankind, Mary, a virgin pledged to man, chose without the effects of Original sin to become the first ally of God in the Redemption of mankind! Mary is the New Eve, the new Woman of Scripture. The great Church father Jerome proclaims in the 4th century: "Death came through Eve, but life has come through Mary." (Epistle 22.21)

Just as Eve was known as the Woman in Genesis, Mary is known as the Woman in the New Testament. In explaining the Gospel, Paul writes to the Galatians: "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons." (Galatians 4.4-5, ESV) He does not refer to Jesus' mother as Mary but as "woman". Paul is alluding back the original Woman of Scripture, Eve.

We also find Jesus referring to Mary as the Woman. At the marriage at Cana, when Mary bids Jesus help in procuring more wine, he responds: "Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come." (John 2.4, ESV) While on the cross, before he gives her as a mother to John, Jesus says to Mary: "Woman, behold, your son!" (John 19.26, ESV)

Let me qualify this for a moment by making clear that Jesus is the wholly preeminent model of the human life. Looking to the creature Mary as a model is in no way intended to obscure or diminish his infinitely unique place as God incarnate. The recent Vatican II council taught that all of Mary's role "flows forth from the superabundance of the merits of Christ, rests on His mediation, depends entirely on it and draws all its power from it. In no way does it impede, but rather does it foster the immediate union of the faithful with Christ." Mary is his first disciple, redeemed fully by his merits on the cross. When we look to Mary, we remember her last words recorded in Scripture: speaking to the servants at the wedding feast in Cana, she instructs them concerning Jesus, "Do whatever he tells you." (John 2.5, ESV) Mary provides for us an example of holy obedience to God.

Our hyper-sexualized society today places before our women the images of celebrities and fashion models that follow in the line of the first woman Eve. But we have learned that the model of Eve was not the last word. There is a new Woman, a new order of what it means to be feminine. It is not based on insecurity, impurity, and competition but on faithfulness, holiness, and love! Let us bring the good news!  

The feminine image that used to be mass produced and placed before all women was the model that the Church gives us*. I call us not to flee from images, but to make a return to holy images. Let us replace our pornography with the Pieta, our racy magazines with the rosary, and the pop icon Madonna with the sacred icon Madonna and Child. I call for the end of the commoditization of our women. Let us proclaim our emancipation from the slavery of dehumanizing secular media images, and instead produce and behold images that are of the Church, by the Church, and for the Church, images that we know will not perish in the new Heaven and new Earth. Let us put before our women the image that God gives us, the image of the new Woman, the faithful, the modest, the graceful Ever-Virgin Holy Mother of God, Mary.

P.S. This post is adapted from a paper I wrote for school. If you'd be interested in the full paper, which goes into greater detail, email me.

*I first heard this pointed out in a talk given by Frank Runyeon, a practicing Catholic and professional actor, on March 7th, 2010, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Bethel, CT.