Marriage Missionaries: Three walks

Matt and Mindy Dalton

In 1971, at seven years old, my family lived in a tent for the summer — as my dad fulfilled a longtime dream of building his own home.   Camping at Cherry Creek State Park was an adventure for me and my three siblings.  New people coming and going, with us wondering if the new campers had any kids.  Our days were spent hanging around the cool reservoir to soothe the hot summer days, and most evenings ended with camp fires crackling and acoustic guitars playing us to sleep. One night we were awakened by lightning and claps of thunder that rumbled the ground we slept on – trees sounding as though they could fall as the wind violently blew.  Dad scrambled outside to secure the canvas windows of the tent.  Breathing hard, he leapt back through the opening as giant raindrops began to pound our tent.  Within minutes, it was raining in torrents and our homey camp site was turning into a pond.  Mom and Dad snatched us and we took shelter in the car.

Reflecting on that era, there was a much larger storm raging: the sexual revolution.  Dr. Peter Kreeft, in “How to Win the Culture War” states, “Every single issue today which there is dissent in the Church is about sex; feminism, inclusive language, contraception, masturbation, homosexuality, abortion, fornication, divorce and re-marriage and the various clergy scandals.”  All of this can be daunting, as we have no idea where all of this is taking us.

Fast forward to 1993.  I, along with half a million people from around the world, flooded Cherry Creek State Park.  Sleeping bags and backpacks were spread out all over the ground, with people for as far as you could see full of joy and, yes, acoustic guitars –  singing praise and worship songs in every language known to man.  This extraordinary event was where I met the witness to hope: Pope John Paul II.

As we at Marriage Missionaries work with couples to help them to re-discover the joy of marriage and family life, we have come to discover that a large majority of individuals never received a consistent, glorious and magnificent vision of God’s plan for sexuality.  For generations there has been very little discussion in our homes about sexuality, and difficulty following God’s prescription for a healthy marriage.  We are left to figure out on our own the God-given hungers of our hearts.  From the culture, what we learn only brings enormous confusion.

JP II’s Theology of the Body is a deep, prayerful biblical study that boldly reminds each of us what it means to be human.  He revolutionized the idea that sex is not first a “verb,” something that we do.  Rather, sex is something that we are, male and female, made in the image and likeness of the Word who became flesh – Jesus Christ.  A way out of this cultural tsunami is through the eyes of St. John Paul II.

Read “The Theology of the Body for Beginners” by Christopher West, and let its beauty echo in your heart.  Then take a walk in Cherry Creek State Park or some other park this Spring; see, listen and catch the scent of God’s creation; flowers in bloom with aroma to attract bees for pollination, nests of new birds chirping with new life.  Ponder your own experience of life and love, what it means to be a man or a woman with eternal dignity.  Receive God’s love through this magnificent teaching.  Ask yourself, “How can I better live out this love?”  Walking as a beloved disciple of Jesus Christ, ask, “How can I share this love with my family and beyond?”

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.