Category Archives: Bible

The Bible And The Promises Of Christ

Most of my Christian friends would agree with me when I say that the Bible is God’s Word.  They would also agree when I say that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that his promises are true.  I would like to consider the connection between some of the promises of Jesus and the origin of the Bible.

There is a misconception among many Christians that the Church springs forth from the Bible.  However, if we use the Bible as a guide for starting a new church, we are doing things backwards.  The historical reality is that the Bible came from the Church, not vice versa.  The Church was started by Christ and thrived for 400 years before the Bible was even assembled.

Consider the promise of Christ, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”  Jesus promised us one Church that would never fail.  It makes no sense, then, to conclude that the Church started by Jesus somehow “failed” and needed to be “rebooted” or started over at some point.  Jesus also promised to be with his Church “until the end of the age.”  In other words, Jesus doesn’t “leave” his Church, cast it aside and start a “new church.”  The Holy Spirit sticks with the original Church until the very end of the world.

Most Christians would agree that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture.  There were a lot of writings from the time of the early Church, but not all of them were inspired.  Not all of them belonged in the Bible.  Not all of them made it into the New Testament.  Who decided which writings made the cut?  Whoever it was, they must have been guided by the Holy Spirit, right?  It was the Catholic Church that decided which writings were inspired and which writings did not belong in the New Testament.  This is not a matter of opinion, it is simply history.  The Bible was assembled by the Catholic Church nearly 400 years after Christ.

Would Jesus start his Church, have members of his Church write inspired Scripture, guide his Church in assembling the Bible, and then “leave” his Church to start a “new” Church?  No, because Jesus does not break his promises.  The Catholic Church today is the same Church started by Jesus 2000 years ago.

Catholics are Christians.  The word “catholic” simply means “universal.”  The Catholic Church is the universal Christian Church.  In other words, it’s for everyone everywhere, including you and me.  It is wrong to assume that a Catholic is something different than a Christian, or that Catholics are not “saved” according to the Bible.  The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament Scriptures and assembled the Scriptures.  The Church has studied, preached and taught the Scriptures for 2000 years.  Make no mistake, the Catholic Church knows all about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!  Read the Catholic Catechism!

Incidentally, those who claim that the Catholic Church is “The whore of Babylon” from the book of Revelation, or that the pope is the antichrist, are using the same New Testament produced and authorized by the Catholic Church!  And for those who claim that the Emperor Constantine “started” the Catholic Church, notice that the New Testament was assembled and approved by the Church (A.D. 382 at the synod of Rome) after Constantine converted to and legalized Christianity in the early 300s.  Those who say, “Constantine started the Catholic Church!” are using the same New Testament produced and approved by what they consider to be a “false religion!”

I submit that most Christians are simply not aware of the historical and spiritual origin of their Bibles.  It took me nearly 40 years to learn it and I was raised Catholic!  The fact is, if you accept the God-given authority of the Bible, you are also accepting the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, whether you realize it or not.  Jesus did not give authority to his Church only to strip it away at some later date.  The Catholic Church is the original Christian Church.  It is only the protection of the Holy Spirit that has prevented the Catholic Church from self-destructing for 2000 years.  No mere human institution holds up under such pressures.  All other churches have been started by someone other than Jesus Christ.

If we love Jesus and the Bible, it only makes sense to love the Church from which the Bible flows.  It is inconsistent to accept Christ, accept the Bible but knowingly reject the Catholic Church.  All three of them go together.  They are intimately linked and cannot be separated from each other.  Jesus is God’s Living Word made flesh among us.  The Bible is God’s written Word.  The Catholic Church is God’s authoritative Body of Christ that preaches and teaches God’s Word.

It is important to prayerfully consider the following questions:  If the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church to be right about the New Testament, what else is the Catholic Church right about?  What is your authority?

So, What’s Your Opinion?

Jesus called his Disciples to follow Him and they dropped everything and followed Him.  Then He spent three years teaching them.  I don’t recall Jesus ever asking His Disciples for their opinions.

I don’t see any indication that Jesus’ time with the Disciples was like many modern day Bible studies where people sit around sharing their own impressions of what this verse or that verse means to them.  I can’t imagine Jesus asking the Disciples for opinions on how to interpret Scripture.  If He did ask them, I certainly can’t imagine that Jesus would be satisfied with two or more opposing interpretations.  It is hard to imagine Jesus responding, “Well, that’s fine if you guys can’t agree on what it means, as long as it’s not essential to your salvation.”  It seems that Jesus taught them and they listened.  They may not have understood everything completely, but they had to accept what Jesus taught them.  Nothing was subject to personal opinion.  Even when Peter had the correct answer to a question (“You are the Christ”), Jesus didn’t say, “I like your opinion about me, Peter!”  Jesus didn’t give Peter any credit.  Jesus made it clear that God provided that correct answer, not Peter.

We need to have Jesus teach us while we listen.  That’s why Jesus gave us the Church.  He didn’t give us lots of different churches with opposing views and opinions.  Jesus gave us the Church with a successive hierarchy led by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus spent three years teaching His Disciples what He wanted them to know.  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to make sure that they (the leaders of Church) would be able to “connect the dots” and continue the process of teaching until the end of the age.  To listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus.  God still provides the correct answers.

There is nothing in the Bible that says, “And Jesus told them to go and write a book to guide people’s opinions after the Apostles die off.”  The Bible itself does not claim to be our ultimate guide and authority.  Obviously, having access to the Bible has not resulted in Christian unity or concensus.  There are too many opposing opinions in play.  I can’t recall Jesus ever being interested in everyone having a right to their own opinions.  He seemed very interested in obedience, though.

There’s an old hymn I recall from my Protestant days.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”  The key is deciding who, and/or what, to obey.  There are so many opinions.  There are so many churches teaching so many different things about Jesus and Scripture.  Jesus knew this would happen.  It’s human nature to muddy the water.  That’s why Jesus gave us His Church with a Spirit-led, successive hierarchy.  To obey His Church is to obey Jesus.  If we wait until we understand every teaching clearly, we will never step forward in faith.  Like the Disciples, we must accept things we do not fully understand.

Sound scary?  I have yet to know of someone whose life or soul was brought to ruin by faithfully following what is taught in the Catholic Catechism.  Challenged, perhaps, but not ruined.  It’s all about Jesus, after all.  And that’s more than simply my opinion.

Are We Really Trusting Jesus?

Have you ever asked a friend to recommend a reliable contractor?  The recommendation will hold a lot of weight if you really trust your friend and have a good relationship.  Your decision to use that contractor rests on your trust in your friend, not in any advertising from the contractor.  The trust you place in the contractor is a function of your relationship with your friend.

What about trusting Jesus?  If he is a friend of yours, it would make sense to trust Him.  This is actually the best reason to be Catholic.  Why say that we trust Jesus if we do not trust the Church that Jesus established?  Jesus gave certain men authority to speak for Him (“He who hears you hears me.”)  Those men transferred their authority to their successors.  For 2000 years the succession has continued within the Catholic Church.  There are a lot of non-Catholic churches, but they were all established at other times by people other than Jesus.  If we intentionally choose one of those churches over the Catholic Church, can we really claim to be trusting Jesus?

Many Christians say they are trusting Jesus and His Word, that is, The Bible.  But, how can they trust that the books within the Bible (especially the New Testament) are the correct books, unless they trust that the men who assembled the Bible were guided by the Holy Spirit?  Those men were Catholic.  The Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church in assembling The Bible.  If we say that the Catholic Church can no longer be trusted to proclaim truth, how can we know when it became untrustworthy?  How can we know that they got the New Testament right?  How can we trust The Bible if we do not trust the authority given to the Catholic Church?

In essence, what many Christians are unwittingly saying is, “Jesus, I believe You were wrong when You said that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against Your Church.  Something did prevail against it and it failed.  Jesus, Your Church fell into paganism and apostasy, and it lost the authority You gave to it.  Yet, I believe the Bible given to us by that failed Church must be trusted.  Therefore, using the Bible, we started lots of new, conflicting churches to replace Yours.”  Is this really placing our trust in Jesus?

Granted, there are many Christians that were raised in non-Catholic churches, and they simply do not know any better.  They know Jesus as best they can through Scripture and the traditions of their churches, even though they are deprived of many graces of the Church.  In fact, many non-Catholic Christians are living much holier lives than many Catholics.  Woe to these Catholics that disregard the gifts they are freely given.  My greater concern is for Catholics that take for granted Christ’s Church or leave it completely.  “To whom much is given much will be required.”

Catholics must trust the teachings of Catholicism because they must first of all trust Jesus.  We have not substituted a relationship with Jesus with religion.  The religion we practice is due to the trusting relationship we have with Jesus.  The Catholic Faith was given by Christ and handed down for 2000 years.  Catholics believe that Jesus is able to preserve not only the Scriptures, but also the integrity of Church teachings (despite sinful people within the Church).  After all, the Catholic Church taught us what books to include within the contents of the Bible, God’s Word.

Catholics that genuinely practice their faith do so because they trust Jesus and take him at his word.  That is what Catholicism is all about.  Every authentic Catholic teaching points to and flows from a relationship with Christ.

 

The Bible? Yep, There’s An App For That. But…

We have reached a point in history where the Bible is available to practically everyone.  We can even carry it around on our smart phones if we want to.  We have access to all sorts of information about the Bible with a few clicks of a mouse or the slide of a finger.  Things have changed drastically since the days when there were only a few Bibles copied by hand.  And yet, some things have not changed at all.  The meaning of Scripture has not changed.  The truth contained in Scripture has not changed.  The ability to properly discern the meaning of the text still resides with the Holy Spirit, not human technology.  Our technology cannot match God.

Consider the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31.  The Apostle Phillip saw him reading from the prophet Esaias.  So, Phillip, guided by the Spirit, approached the man and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The man replied, “How can I unless some man guides me?”  So, Phillip explained (preached) to the man how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ.  The eunuch then asked to be baptized.  He became a Christian, not because he read and understood the copy of the Scriptures he possessed, but because a Spirit-led, authoritative interpreter of that Scripture preached to him.  That Ethiopian eunuch might as well have been sitting there Googling the Scripture on his iPhone.  He still would have needed the apostolic authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible contains, among other things, Paul’s letters to various churches regarding many different topics such as salvation, end times, proper behavior of Christians, the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Peter (the first pope and head of the apostles) also wrote some letters.  In 2Peter 3:16, Peter mentions the letters of Paul.  Peter writes that Paul’s letters contain information that is “hard to understand.”  Not only are the letters hard to understand, but there are a lot of people twisting the truth of those letters “to their own destruction.”  In other words, interpreting the Bible is difficult and dangerous.  Peter then warns the Christians not to be led astray by people that are improperly interpreting Paul’s letters.

Having a laptop with fancy Bible software or a smart phone has not made it safer to interpret Scripture.  In fact, it has probably increased the danger.  We now live in a world of relativism, the antithesis of truth.  People generally no longer believe in absolute truth.  “You have your truth and I have my truth.”  “You have your Bible interpretation and I have my Bible interpretation.”  “You follow your Jesus and I’ll follow my Jesus.”  This is partly the result of many Bibles with little or no guidance from apostolic authority.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Pontius Pilot says, “What is truth?” and then washes his hands of it and crucifies Truth.  Such is our world of mass information and relativistic mindset.

Can’t people become Christian in any church?  Isn’t it even possible for people to pick up a Bible, read it, learn about Jesus and become Christian?  Of course.  But becoming Christian is only the beginning.  Disciples must learn how to remain Christians, grow as Christians and conduct themselves as Christians.  Just as we do not leave newborn babies to fend for themselves, The Master did not set us adrift on the winds of conflicting doctrines.  Jesus did not leave us alone with only our Bibles.  He left us a Church for guidance.  When we ignore or abandon the apostolic guidance of that Church, we place ourselves in peril.  When we act as if we know better than the Church that Jesus established and gave His own authority to, we place ourselves in peril.  When we have devotion to the Bible but not to Christ’s Church, we place ourselves in peril.  It is not the Bible that divides Christians; it is the issue of authority.

The question of authority extends even beyond the interpretation of Scripture.  The Bible does not explicitly address certain issues facing modern Christians.  While technology has given us smart phones, it has also enhanced our ability to “play God,” particularly in the beginning and ending stages of life.  Science promises great power and ingenuity, but it does not promise morality or spiritual truth.  If Christians are divided over moral issues that are addressed in the Bible, how much more will they be divided on issues where the Bible is silent?  There has to be an authority to interpret Scripture and to address contemporary moral issues.

Keep your Bible on your phone, your Kindle, your laptop, your desktop or in a drawer by your bed if you wish.  It matters not.  What matters is the authority by which we discern the Bible.  There are now literally thousands of conflicting interpretations and various lifestyles all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and all using the name “Christian.”  It’s confusing.  God is not the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33).  We still need the apostolic, Spirit-led authority that unlocked the Scriptures for the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t need more technology or Bibles, and we don’t need just any church or just any preacher; we need the Church preaching apostolic truth.

Why Don’t Catholics Carry Bibles To Church?

If you watched the History Channel’s The Bible series, you might not have noticed that there was something missing in the last episode.  The Apostles were spreading the Gospel far and wide even as they encountered much persecution and opposition.  The number of Christians was growing substantially.  Paul of Tarsus was shown disrupting Christians as they participated in The Lord’s Supper (Mass), and inciting the crowds to murder Saint Steven.  After his conversion, Paul was shown visiting various parts of the world and preaching to them.  What was not shown were Christians carrying Bibles around.  That’s because the Bible did not yet exist (only Old Testament scrolls existed).  Nevertheless, the Gospel was being preached and people were being converted.

It is ironic that, when people start new churches and make attempts to recreate the environment of the first Christians, they bring their Bibles with them.  The first Christians had no Bibles and most could not even read.  “Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God was preached by the Apostles and the men they appointed.  One did not need a Bible.  All that was needed were ears to hear.

Eventually, some things were written down and letters were sent to various Christians.  Over time the Church gathered up quite a bit of written material.  But even then, people did not generally know how to read.  And the written materials were not handed out for everyone to bring to the service with them.  People still had to be read to and come to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The Church carried on in this manner for about 400 years until it was decided that the inspired writings needed to be compiled into one collection of books.  The Bible is a collection of writings, a library (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”).  The Catholic Church had to decide which writings were inspired by God, and which ones were not.  They did this through the authority given by Christ 400 years earlier and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we were given the Bible.

However, Christians still were not carrying Bibles to services with them.  They still could not read.  There were only a limited number of copies of the Bible.  The Bible was copied by hand over centuries.  Were it not for Catholic monks bending over tables in monasteries and protecting the copies we might not have Bibles today.  A congregation was blessed to have even one copy of the Bible.  It was so valuable it had to be protected from theft and damage.  Still, the people came to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The invention of the printing press made it possible for more folks to have Bibles.  Even then, it took years before Bibles were household possessions.  It was a mixed blessing.  More people had Bibles, but there was more confusion about what was in the Bible.  Suddenly, everyone that could read became a Bible interpreter.  Rather than being good for the Church, this phenomenon fragmented the Church.  People began to think they knew better than the Church that had written, compiled and preserved the writings for hundreds of years.  Today we have a Bible in every hand, but we also have 30,000+ ways of interpreting the Bible.  The Church is weakened in her mission to the world by such division.  People took the Bible away from the Church and started thousands of other “churches.”  This is not the Christian unity that Jesus and His Apostles had in mind.  People hijacked the Bible from the Church and coopted the name “Christian.”

Today Catholics are still listening to the Word of God being read to them (although they can certainly read along from their Bibles or the Catholic Missal if they want to).  If a Catholic goes to daily Mass, he/she will hear nearly the entire Bible over a three year period.  Literate Catholics are also encouraged, even exhorted, to read and learn the Bible outside of the Mass.  We are offered Bible studies and have access to all sorts of educational materials about the Bible.  We can even interpret the Bible as we read it, as long as we don’t come up with ideas that contradict the apostolic teaching of the Church.

The Catholic Mass is divided into sections.  One section is the Liturgy of The Word.  This is where we hold up the Bible (literally hold it up to honor and reverence it), read from it, and preach about it.  However, The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass.  This is where we do what Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.  Even throughout the entire Mass there are words from Scripture integrated into the service.  For most Bible-Christian churches, the high point of the service is typically singing, the reading of the Bible and preaching.  Catholics also do these things, but we have preserved Christ’s emphasis on the Eucharist, His life-giving flesh and blood.

Most Bible churches have communion, but it tends to be a lesser emphasis and is only symbolic in nature.  Some churches only have communion once a quarter.  Mostly they focus on the Bible and preaching.  The Apostles would not recognize such services.  They would be looking for the Eucharist, not the Bible.  Churches that emphasize the “Bible alone” are a relatively new phenomenon, but most people are not aware of the history.  They just assume that Christianity has always been based on the Bible.  But, the reverse is true.  It is more accurate to say that the Bible is based on the Church.  The Church did not always have the Bible.  The Church came first.

So, Catholics don’t usually carry Bibles to church with them, even though the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  It’s not that we don’t believe or teach from the Bible.  For 2000 years our Faith has come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God whether written down or not.  Catholicism is original, authentic Christianity in its fullness.  We love the Bible.  We teach and preach from the Bible.  We read and listen to the Bible.  It is a Catholic book.  It is part of us.  We carry it in our hearts wherever we go.

The Red Flags Of Religion And Tradition

There were two, main concerns expressed to me by Bible Christians when they heard that I was Catholic.  First, they were afraid that I lacked a personal relationship with Jesus.  Second, my “religion” and its “traditions” were what prevented me from having that personal relationship with Jesus.  In other words, religion and tradition are bad, relationship is good.  Whenever you hear someone make this point, red flags should begin to frantically wave.

If someone tells you that Jesus is anti-religion or anti-tradition, don’t believe a word of it.  Jesus was anti-hypocrisy.  He told His fellow Jews, “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do, because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t act the way they act” (Matt 23:1-3).  In other words, “Your religion and tradition is good, but your religious leaders are behaving badly.”

Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites.  Jesus also pointed out that they had piled on man-made traditions that were ruining the good, God-given religion and Sacred Tradition.  Jesus never said, “Get rid of the religion.”  He essentially said, “Stop ruining the religion that God gave you.”

Jesus took the religion that God had given the people and made it better.  He fulfilled the religion and brought it forward; He did not abolish or destroy religion.  Jesus continued the religion given by God. Jesus established His Church, placed certain men in charge of the Church, gave those men His own authority and commissioned them to spread the religion.  The religion is called Christianity.

Like Judaism, Christianity contains Sacred Tradition (Tradition with a capital “T”).  Catholics know this as “The Deposit of Faith.”  This is handed down by apostolic authority, the authority given by Christ.  For example, the Apostle’s Creed, the seven Sacraments and even the Bible are part of Sacred Tradition.  When people condemn “tradition” they are unwittingly condemning the Bible.  The Bible was given to us through the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15).  Here we can see that both oral and written traditions are important and are given by apostolic authority.  Catholicism contains both the written and the oral Sacred Tradition.

Catholicism also has traditions (tradition with a lower case “t”) that are disciplinary, pastoral or cultural in nature.  These are not the same thing as Sacred Tradition.  However, that does not mean that these traditions impede a personal relationship with Jesus.  These are outgrowths of a personal relationship with Jesus.  Imagine, for example, a mother and a daughter making cookies together every year for Christmas.  That is a family tradition that grew out of a relationship that already existed.  Making cookies does not “replace” the relationship between the mother and the daughter.  So it is with many Catholic, lower case “t” traditions.  Catholicism does not interfere with a personal relationship with Jesus.  Catholicism is all about a personal relationship with Jesus.

There are occasions when people abuse Catholicism and/or fail to make the connection between the religion and the relationship.  This has always been the case.  That is why Jesus warned us about it.  Jesus knew that the abuses in Judaism could also happen in His Church.  Nevertheless, He established His Church and promised that it would endure by His power, not by man’s power.  It has endured.  2000 years later, the Catholic Church is still going, still spreading the Gospel, and is the largest charitable organization in the world.  After all, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).  In other words, religion should promote charity (love) and holiness.  Such is the goal of authentic Catholicism, the religion of Jesus Christ.  Those who believe otherwise simply misunderstand authentic Catholicism.

So, Catholics, when someone wants to tell you that your religion is preventing you from having a personal relationship with Jesus, red flags should begin to fly about.  Tell them that quite the opposite is true.  Your religion is a personal relationship with Jesus.  It was given to us personally by Jesus.  The more you learn The Faith the more you will know this to be true.

The Bible Is Not A Pastor

The election of Pope Francis has triggered some discussion with my non-Catholic friends.  Such conversations often reveal misconceptions about Christianity, Catholicism and the Papacy in particular.  I’ll try to make a few things more clear in “layman’s terms.”

There is a slogan that is used by many non-Catholic Christians, especially those from Fundamentalist backgrounds.  The slogan is, “No hope in the Pope!”  The meaning being that Christians should place their eternal hope in Jesus Christ, not in an imperfect man.  As a devout Roman Catholic, I agree with their premise.

The misconception is that Catholics follow the Pope instead of Christ, or that the Pope trumps the Word of God in some way.  Many non-Catholics believe that the Pope can make up whatever rules he wants, even if they contradict biblical principles.  They often think that “infallible” means “impeccable.”  Infallible is not the same as impeccable.  In other words, Catholics do not believe that the Pope is totally free from error or that he is free from mistakes.  Even Peter, the first Pope, made mistakes.  He also made some infallible statements and decisions when God gave them to him.  For example, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter who gave the infallible answer, “You are the Christ.”

Most of my non-Catholic, Christian friends go to church somewhere.  Those churches have pastors.  The people in those churches generally trust God to speak to them through the preaching/teaching of their pastors.  If they have questions about the Bible and its meaning, they typically ask their pastors for an interpretation.  Or, they read the Bible and make their own interpretations, or they ask a friend for an opinion.  If the preaching or teaching of the pastor is deemed incorrect, there are other pastors in other churches to choose from.  The trick is to determine whether or not the preaching and teaching of the pastor is properly aligned with the “final authority” of the Bible.  There are many pastors teaching many opposing things about the Bible while all claiming to be “led by the Holy Spirit.”  So, how can they know who is right?  Checking the Bible does not solve differences of opinion about the Bible.

The Bible is not a pastor.  The Bible cannot lead the people in the way that a shepherd leads a flock.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus gave Peter (and his fellow apostles) a specific office of authority that included “binding and loosing” of things here on earth and in Heaven.  He also gave Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  By giving Peter this unique office, Jesus mirrored the Old Testament tradition of a king appointing his prime minister.  Peter’s office also needed to be filled upon his death, just as the empty office of Judas had been filled.  This is why we have a 2000 year succession of Popes and apostolic authority in the Church.

The Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles.  There are more than twelve of them now because the Church is so large and global.  Yet, there still is only one head of the apostles.  There needs to be a “go to guy,” a pastor that all the Church is accountable to.  The Bible alone cannot fill this role.  There are too many varying opinions about how to discern and interpret the Bible.  Incidentally, no one even knew what books and letters to officially include in the Bible before the Catholic Church made that decision nearly 400 years after Christ.  The Bible is actually part of the Sacred Tradition handed down to us from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  Part of the Pope’s role (along with his fellow bishops) is to protect this Sacred Tradition (aka “The Deposit of Faith”) which includes the Bible.

Jesus, of course, is The Good Shepherd.  He is the Head of the Church.  Catholics worship Jesus and strive to follow Jesus.  Part of following Jesus includes following the earthly pastor appointed by The Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised that The Holy Spirit would guide His Church.  The Pope is simply an instrument of The Holy Spirit.  I have a pastor in my local Church, but he also is answerable to the highest, earthly pastor.  In this way, we heed the words of the apostle Paul “that there be no divisions among you.”  (1Cor 1:10)  When disagreements arise, as is often the case with human beings, the Church authority is there for direction and discipline (Matt 18:17).  Without that 2000 year old Church authority, Christians have no rudder to steer them on the drifting waves of conflicting opinions and divided denominations.

Infallibility means that God protects the office of the Pope from teaching error in faith and morals.  It does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible.  Nor does it mean that the Pope is sinless or free from mistakes.  Infallibility is given to the Christ-established office of the Pope.  The man himself, like Peter, is just a man.  The Pope cannot contradict Sacred Tradition, including Scripture.  The Pope cannot add to or subtract from Scripture.  Catholics believe that God is powerful enough to protect the office of the Pope, just as God is powerful enough to protect the inerrant, inspired Bible that the Catholic Church compiled.  He gives us His Word and a pastor to guide us all.  Jesus is The King, and the Pope is His earthly Prime Minister.  What an awesome God we serve!

Jesus Vs. E.T.

There are lots of reasons I can give as to why I choose to be a Catholic Christian.  I can talk about the necessity of Church authority in a world of relativistic, secularized theologies and individualistic Bible interpretations.  I can talk about the historical consistency of the Church from Christ until today in an atmosphere of endless church splits and fragmentations.  I can talk about how the Catholic Church stands firm on issues of morality while other churches cave into public pressure and secular culture.  I can talk about the need for unity, community and guidance in a world of Jesus-and-me, church-hopping Christians who “don’t want to be told what to do.”  I can talk about 2000 years of sacred Tradition and the deposit of faith being preserved by the Catholic Church.  I can explain that, without the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, Christians wouldn’t even know if their Bibles should contain The Gospel of Thomas or The Gospel of John or the Book of James, for it was the Catholic Church that decided the answer.  I can appeal to both reason and faith from the perspective of Natural Law and theology, etc., etc.

To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it’s hard to give a short answer as to why I decided to be Catholic, because there are at least 10,000 reasons all leading to the conclusion that Catholicism is true.  But, after all is said and done, the ultimate reason I want to be Catholic is because I love Jesus Christ, and I want to follow Him.  I want to be with Him.  But, as much as I love Him, He loves me even more, and wants even more to be with me.  I’m not content to have a long distance relationship with Christ.  It is not enough for me to only have Jesus “in my heart” and read His letters and listen to preachers talk about being with Him in Heaven some day.  I want to be with Him now.  Thankfully, Jesus wants this even more than I do, so He set up His Church to provide the means.

But it’s not all about me and Jesus.  Jesus loves us all the same.  So He set things up in such a way that we can all be with Him, and He with us, not just “in our hearts” but in our very physical presence and essence.  I used to imagine that Jesus did a kind of “E.T” thing.  In the movie “E.T.” the little alien creature goes back to space and leaves his friend Eliot behind in tears.  In order to consol Eliot, the alien points his glowing finger at his friend’s head and says, “I’ll be right here!”  In other words, “I’ll be with you in spirit, or I’ll be present in your thoughts, but actually, I’m leaving you.”

Jesus promised to never leave us nor forsake us.  He also said He would not leave us orphans.  On the road to Emmaus Jesus met the men who begged Him to stay, even though they did not recognize who He was.  Jesus did not point to their heads or their chests and say, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here!”  No, Jesus vanished from their sight, but, as they requested, He stayed with them in the bread, and that’s how they recognized who He was.  Jesus can do anything He wants with His glorified body.  He chooses to be present with us in bread and wine, so we can all touch Him, be with Him, partake of the Sacrificial Lamb and be united in one Body with Him.  This is what Passover was foreshadowing.  We are saved by the blood of the Lamb, but we also physically partake of, and become one with, the Lamb.

Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit as the Church’s teacher, Comforter and power.  However, the Holy Spirit is not a substitute for Christ’s physical presence among us.  Jesus said He would send the Holy Spirit to teach the Church what it needed to know.  One thing the Church needs to know is that Jesus is here among us!  He longs to be with us and become one with us.  The Holy Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life and unity.  If you love Jesus, don’t just read His letters and sing songs about Him.  Follow Him and really be with Him!

The Ultimate and Original “Cloud”

Before there was an iCloud to pull everything together, there was the “great cloud of witnesses” that Hebrews 12:1 says we are surrounded by.  The Feast of All Saints reminds us of this cloud and how all Christians, whether in this life or the next, are intimately connected in one Body with Christ as the Head.

One of my favorite things about being Catholic is that we do not view the Church as being just an earthly group of believers.  The Church on earth is called “The Church Militant” because we are waging a war against evil and spiritual wickedness.  Scripture calls Satan “the god of this world.”  As Christians, we are “in the world, but not of the world.”  It is a spiritual battle for souls here on earth and we Christians are spiritual warriors.

There exists a state of being between this life and Heaven where Christians may be purged of anything that cannot enter heaven, anything that is not pure and built upon Christ.  1Corinthians 3:11-15 describes this state of purging as a fire that burns away the wood, hay and stubble of our lives, yet leaves us saved with our good works of precious stones, gold and silver.  Since eternity is not limited by our time constraints, and God is outside of time, we cannot place any sense of time on this state of being.  Yet, few of us are perfect and ready to enter Heaven “right now” in this life.  We will be different in Heaven than we are “right now.” This means that a change takes place somewhere in between this life and Heaven.  Catholics call this state of being Purgatory, because it is a purging process.  Since the purging process is not a pleasant one (it is not easy to relinquish things our souls tend to cling to), the Christians in this state of purging are referred to as “The Church Suffering.”

Christians that are in Heaven are called “The Church Triumphant.”  This is the ultimate goal of Christianity, to triumph over Satan, sin, death and the evil in the world and in ourselves.  Heaven is where we are finally joined completely with Christ and “see Him as He is, for we shall be like Him.”  On the day of resurrection, even our physical bodies will be glorified and present with Christ.  No more sin or death.  Triumph!

All Christians are united in one body of Christ.  The Church Militant, The Church Suffering and The Church Triumphant are all the Body of Christ with Jesus as Head.  This is why the “cloud” that surrounds us is so awesome.  It is connected to us.  We in The Church Militant are not separated from Christians in The Church Triumphant.  Far from being dead, they are more alive than we are!  That is why we can call upon them to pray for us and intercede to God on our behalf.  In the same way that we ask other Christians here on earth to pray for us and with us, we can call upon the Saints in Heaven to do the same, for we are all one Body of Christ!  I am so glad to be able to call upon our mother, Mary, the Saints in Heaven, my earthly Christian brothers and sisters, and, most of all, Jesus, the One Mediator who makes it all possible by allowing us to share in His mediation through His One Body.  Thank God for “the cloud!”

Have a blessed Feast of All Saints!

Is The Bread Of Life’s Flesh Of No Avail?

Today’s Gospel reading is from John chapter 6:51-58.  It was great to hear our priest give a homily that affirmed the physical reality of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Many claim that Jesus was being metaphorical in saying that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.  They use verse 64 to support the idea that Jesus was talking symbolically since he says, “It is the Spirit who gives life, the flesh is of no avail.  My words are spirit and life.”

Yet, Jesus did not say, “MY flesh is of no avail” but he said “THE flesh is of no avail.”  This was to contrast Spiritual truth with human inability to understand intellectually.  Certainly, the flesh of Jesus avails much because it is his flesh that he gives on the cross for the life of the world.  However, the flesh is our human frailty and lack of understanding, as in “The Spirit is willing but the flesh is weak,” or “You judge according to the flesh and not after God.”  The flesh indeed profits nothing!  Our human weakness cannot match the power of the Holy Spirit.

Furthermore, the word “Spirit” never means “symbolic” anywhere in Scripture.  The Spirit is very real and does not “symbolize” anything.  The Spirit is the power by which God makes calm weather out of storms, water into wine, life out of dust, creation out of nothingness, blind people see, deaf people hear and bread and wine into Christ’s own body and blood.  As God said, “Let there be light” and there was light (God’s words being Spirit and life), Jesus said, “Take and eat.  This is my body, this is my blood.”  That is Spirit and life in Jesus’ words, not metaphor!

If you are a Christian, when have you actually eaten Jesus’ flesh and drank his blood, thereby receiving the power and life of the Spirit the way Jesus prescribes?  Have you been partaking of a mere symbol?  We are called to believe the Spirit of Truth, by faith, not to understand with our fleshy brains.

(For even more on this topic, read this and this)