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Just dropping by ... One candle of faith is extinguished and the world grows darker

Yevet Tenney Published on 09 February 2012

0212pd_tenney_1Not long ago, I wrote an article that was perceived as a political ploy and an attack on the Catholic church. I was horrified when I read the critic’s message and realized how I had been so totally misunderstood.

My intention with the article, “Big Endians vs. The Little Endians,” was to bring Christian people together under one label, not to point fingers at any one church, especially the Catholic church.

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My critic graciously pointed out that I had misspelled the name of William Tyndale and had blamed the Catholic church for Tyndale’s execution.

I should have been clearer that Henry VIII, not the Catholic church, executed William Tyndale and, certainly, to generalize that all believers were put to death, was a gross unintended error.

I hope that my clarification will obtain forgiveness. I am grateful for critics who help me to realize my weakness. Mistakes are my teachers, but I want my critics to know that I was not taking a political stance or pointing fingers.

I want to set the record straight. I have a deep love and respect for the Catholic church. I see her as the great preserver of Christianity. If it had not been for the Catholic church, and her tenacious desire to spread Christianity, the doctrines of Christ would have died in the Dark Ages.

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During a period of history known as the “Dark Ages,” and in the beginning of the Renaissance, most people were uneducated. Only the elite could read and write.

In order to spread the gospel, the Catholic church built grand cathedrals to teach the people about Christ and the Bible. The ceilings and walls of these cathedrals were painted with scenes from the Bible.

Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel while lying on his back on scaffolding. He did not paint pictures of the clergy, or prominent men to laud their glory; he painted pictures from the Bible and the life of Christ.

His faith is transmitted to every person who walks into that chapel. Even today, people cannot enter the Sistine Chapel without being changed somehow for the better.

Other Catholic cathedrals are decorated with intricate mosaics and stained glass windows. I am not talking about a few windows and a few mosaics – I am talking about every wall and every window in the entire cathedral, decorated with Christian themes.

I cannot imagine how many days, months and years it took to build and adorn those cathedrals using primitive hand tools, but I know that every chip of the stone and inlay was done with faith and love for the Savior of the world. Only passion and dedication can produce such work.

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The statues that adorn the cathedrals inspire wonder and faith. Artists cannot inspire faith without having a good store of faith in their own hearts. When I first saw the “Pieta,” I was awestruck. Michelangelo sculpted Mary holding the crucified Jesus across her lap.

I cannot see that sculpture, even in pictures, without feeling the love of the Savior and his mother well up in my heart. Michelangelo understood the deep love between a mother and a son.

He also must have comprehended the deep connection of Christ to humankind. The Catholic church fostered Michelangelo’s faith and understanding.

The Catholic church faced a monumental task in keeping Christianity alive in the Dark Ages. The clergy came up with ingenious ways to educate an illiterate congregation. The floor plans of the cathedrals were built in the shape of a cross.

In each station of the cross, the clergy would perform plays depicting Biblical stories. These stories helped the layman to understand and remember Christian stories and principles. Often these plays were presented in the streets, on pageant wagons, so that even those who did not live near the church could be taught. The Church of England adopted these practices.

Shakespeare, as a young man, watched these plays in the street and developed a passion for drama. Shakespeare’s plays are filled with Christian references. If it were not for the Catholic church, I wonder if the great art and literature of the world would even exist.

We would have missed Milton’s Paradise Lost and John Donne’s famous line “For whom the Bell Tolls,” and Handel’s “Messiah” might never have been written.

I have only mentioned the outward trappings of the church, but the true Christians of the Catholic church are nonetheless awe-inspiring. I think of the monks and nuns who painstakingly spend their lives dedicated to the cause of Christ.

They totally shut out the world in an effort to live a truly Christian life. Their writings and intricate drawings are inspiring even today.

Sir Thomas Moore was not a monk, but a martyr to the cause of Christ. He stood against King Henry VIII in the matter of divorce. He was not willing to mar his integrity to allow the principles of the Bible to be altered for political gain.

We need Thomas Moores today, in our flip-flop society. He was willing to be imprisoned and finally executed because he would not bend to the winds of change. The Catholic church fostered that kind of integrity.

The saints of the Catholic church have influenced the world. Many of Saint Francis of Assisi’s words are etched in my heart, as they are in the hearts of so many who have struggled with addiction and sorrow. What if the entire world adopted his philosophies? What a difference it would make!

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.
— The Peace Prayer of Saint Francis

Even the reformers who broke away were initially nurtured in the arms of the Catholic church. Points of doctrine, not the Christianity the Catholic church had so tenaciously preserved, disenchanted the reformers.

I can understand why the clergy was angry when Martin Luther posted his concerns on the door of the church. If you have worked so hard to preserve a way of life, it is hard to allow radical change. If you are not vigilant, you risk everything.

The clergy was protective of the traditions they held dear. Change always connotes some loss of yesterday. Our nation is at such a crossroad.

Christianity has gone through a growing process; change has come and gone, but Christians all over the world stand for Christ. They live their lives in quiet service and charity. They daily make a pilgrimage to Christ through prayer and thanksgiving.

Gradually, Christians have changed the world and continue to make inroads into the hearts of their fellow men. They may fight among themselves and debate points of doctrine, but true Christians look at the heart, not the label.

Of course, there are those who utter Christianity with their lips, but whose hearts are far from the God they profess. Christianity is a matter of the heart. Some hearts are strong and beat fervently with the tune “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Others are weak, vacillating with desire to know the truth and not knowing where to find it. They are discouraged and hurting. They need to hear “Come unto Jesus ye heavy laden.” We can show them the way, by being true Christians.

We are all candles for Christ lighting the world. Some are torches burning bright and it would take a hurricane to extinguish them, but there are those who have only a flicker of hope dancing on a fragile wick.

These candles are easily snuffed out with an unkind word or act. We all have the responsibility to nurture the weak flames. When one candle of faith is extinguished, the world grows a little darker.

We need to stand shoulder to shoulder against the tsunami of evil facing our nation, children and families. We need to put on the whole armor of God and prepare for the battle that we will fight for Christ’s sake.

We are all on the same team. We cannot afford to blow out each others’ candles with bickering and wars of words. We must stand as the ancient Catholic church to preserve Christianity. If we fail, the “Dark Ages” will return to plague our children forever, and the Christ we love will have died in vain.  PD

PHOTO:
When I first saw the “Pieta,” I was awestruck. Michelangelo sculpted Mary holding the crucified Jesus across her lap. I cannot see that sculpture, even in pictures, without feeling the love of the Savior and his mother well up in my heart. Photo courtesy of thinkstock.com

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